Court: Bay Island can retain control of its bridge

A private island community in Newport Harbor will retain control of a bridge that connects it to the Balboa Peninsula, an appellate court ruled Thursday.

The Bay Island Club, an association of 24 homes that owns Bay Island, sought the California Coastal Commission's approval in 2006 to replace its private foot path with one that would be wider, meet seismic standards and have accessibility requirements that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

At the time, the commission argued that the association could rebuild the 130-foot-long bridge, providing it be made public because it would span a city-owned canal.

In June 2011an Orange County Superior Court judge sided with the commission, contending that its requirements did not include taking Bay Island's private property.

Under that decision, a gate would be permitted on Bay Island's end of the bridge but not on the peninsula end, thus keeping the island private, but allowing public access to the bridge span.

The appellate court's decision Thursday reverses that earlier decision by continuing to make the bridge private and allowing a gate on the peninsula end. Furthermore, signs could be posted prohibiting public access.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based nonprofit legal organization whose advocacy includes fighting for property rights and limited government, called the decision a triumph.

"This ruling is a great victory for everybody's property rights, no matter where you live — close to the water or far inland," the foundation said in a prepared statement. "It is a setback for bureaucratic attempts to undermine property rights by eroding people's control over their own private property."

Bay Island was made private when the Bay Island Club bought the land in 1903 and 1906, according to court documents. In 1927 the city of Newport Beach granted the community the right to create, maintain and replace a bridge to the mainland.

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