The Coastal Commission charged a group of 27 homeowners in Aptos County approximately $4.7 million in fines on Thursday - marking the highest penalty in Santa Cruz County history.
The actual fine charged was for violating a CDP from 1980 which the commission issued to the homeowners to repair the boardwalk after storms as well as to restore and maintain native dunes with vegetation. For decades the homeowners have privatized the boardwalk by covering it with patio furniture, building out their structures into the easement, and in the last few years — physically blockading it with plastic barriers and fines. They have also physically blockaded the walkway on the backside of their properties with garbage cans.
HOA representatives argued that the accessway was not public, and are currently involved in court proceedings with the County of Santa Cruz in which they are arguing the easement is their private property.
Regardless of the dispute between the County of Santa Cruz and the HOA, the Commission’s decision to fine the applicant for violations to public property and other violations of the CDP hinged on their rationale that the 1980 CDP conditions originally accepted by the applicant included implicit language about the public nature of the easement.
Why You Should Care
The Coastal Commission is mandated to maximize public access to the coast and it's enforcement division is an integral part of upholding that mandate. The Orders send a strong message that public spaces and accessways may not be privatized.
Negative Conservation Vote
Surfrider and California Coastal Protection Network supported the fines, and local non-profit groups and residents working with disabled folks, who cannot make use of the privatized walkway, also showed up to express how happy they would be to have this accessway open.
Commissioner Cummings and Commissioner Brownsey both expressed that they thought the fine was relatively small, given the enormity of the public access violation, but the fine was unanimously approved. Read more at the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Cease and Desist Orders