Illegal Seawall Laguna Beach


August 1, 2018

Th 8 & 9 Illegal Seawall at 11 Lagunita - Cease and Desist Order

Cease and Desist Order CCC-18-CD-02 and Administrative Penalty CCC-18-AP-02 As documented in the staff report, the property owners have engaged in extensive unpermitted rebuilding of their private residence. The extent of building is such that it constitutes new development, which means it is no longer entitled to a seawall under the California Coastal Act according to section 30235. The existing seawall was only permitted to protect the then-existing, Pre-Coastal Act structure based in the owners’ assertion that they would only proceed with a minor remodel. Subsequently, and in violation of the conditions of the permit, the existing house was torn down to the barest frame (as clearly evidenced by the photos in Exhibit 1) and then rebuilt. As a result, it cannot be accurately described as a “remodel” by any stretch and thus no longer qualifies for a seawall.

The homeowners claimed that the construction was a minor remodel and does not constitute new development. However, Coastal Commission staff presented extensive evidence that prove the home underwent a nearly 100% remodel. Therefore, Coastal Commission staff recommended that the now-illegal seawall be removed and the owners of the unpermitted structure be required to comply with setback and coastal hazard requirements.

The Coastal Commission staff recommended levying an administrative fine of $500,000, much less than the $8 million maximum fine the Commission could levy and more than reasonable given the amount of public resources and staff time the homeowners have utilized in attempting to evade state law.

The Coastal Commission ultimately approved the cease and desist orders which require the property owner to remove the seawall within 60 days and return for a coastal development permit for the extensive unpermitted redevelopment of the home. Further, they increased the administrative fine to $1 million citing the well documented willful disregard of the Coastal Act, the extensive use of public resources to resolve the violation and coastal resource impacts.

Why You Should Care

With each permitting and enforcement decision the Commission makes today, the consequences will last for decades or more and ultimately decide the fate of California’s beaches – whether we choose to save them or let them disappear by defaulting to hard armoring. We must stand against sacrificing our public beaches - and the recreational opportunities they provide - for private homeowner benefit.

Victoria Beach continues to be a popular skimboarding beach and in 2017, Laguna Beach was declared the Skimboarding Capital of the World. Any amount of shoreline armoring will have a drastic impact on the small cove beach and may ultimately lead to its permanent disappearance due to increasing erosion, sea level rise and coastal hazards over the coming years.


Pro-Coast Vote

Anti-Coast Vote

Commissioner Donne Brownsey kicked off deliberations by pointing out that violators obtained the benefits of the CDP for a seawall but did not accept the burdens. The conditions of the CDP were extremely clear directives to the property owners which they subsequently and knowingly violated. Commissioner Brownsey also also clarified with staff that the violators were notified of a pending violation and confirmed that staff tried to stop the violation in the process. However, the violators continued with construction for one year. The violators were well aware of the severity of the violations throughout construction.

Commissioner Mark Vargas noted that a key aspect of the violation hinges on the definition of new development. The seawall permit conditions intentionally set the expiration of the seawall with the lifespan (typically 75 years) of the existing development - which otherwise would not be permitted to exist. Commission Chair Dayna Bochco highlighted that the Commission has discussed in great detail in the past what constitutes as counting toward to 50% threshold under the definition of a major remodel and that certainly this redevelopment crossed that threshold. Commissioner Brownsey wrapped up deliberations stating that this was a “willful, intentional” disregard of the law and that the staff’s proposed administrative fine of $500,000 should be doubled. Commissioners amended the staff report to include Immediate removal of seawall within 60 days, doubling the fine to $1 million and the fine be required to be paid as soon as possible. Commissioners agreed and the consent orders and administrative fine passed unanimously.

Organizations Opposed

Surfrider Foundation, Orange County Coastkeeper, California Coastal Protection Network, Banning Ranch Conservancy

Decision Type

Cease and Desist Order and Administrative Fine

Staff Recommendation

Approval and Issuance as Proposed

Coastal Act Policy