Trafalgar Canyon in San Clemente


February 8, 2024

The Coastal Commission approved an application for a new house in a coastal canyon in San Clemente that it had previously denied. The court ordered the Commission to rehear the item due to a technicality. The proposed 7,000+ square foot development would be constructed in Trafalgar Canyon, a vegetated canyon with a coastal trail. The proposal is inconsistent with the City’s local coastal program, which prohibits development in coastal canyons and with multiple Coastal Act policies, including sensitive habitat protections. Despite the clear contradiction with state and local regulations, the Commission approved the project in order to avoid a lawsuit regarding takings. Locals argued that proposing development in lots that have no legally developable space is not a legal takings and Surfrider Foundation argued that due to its size, the proposed project exceeds a ‘reasonable use’ of a property required to avoid a regulatory takings.

Why You Should Care

The proposed project clearly violates the San Clemente Land Use Plan and municipal code, and the Coastal Act, with respect to geologic stability, hazards, development in coastal canyons, and the disturbance of ESHA. Compliance with these coastal resource safeguards plainly requires denial of a permit - and a local variance was never issued. The reduced development footprint is still far from reasonable. Conversely, this scale of development, which would be located on a coastal canyon slope and directly and indirectly disturb ESHA, in contravention of the Coastal Act, LCP, and municipal code, is entirely unreasonable and could not possibly have been an investment-backed expectation, warranting approval.

By approving this project, the Commission is setting precedence for interpreting takings law and allowing development in coastal canyons.


Pro-Coast Vote

Anti-Coast Vote

Commissioner Dayna Bocho expressed concern about the impacts to habitat and the total lack of an ESHA buffer zone. Ultimately, the Commission determined that a smaller footprint would likely not result in substantial habitat benefits and thus found the project approvable.

Organizations Opposed

Friends of Trafalgar Canyon, Surfrider Foundation

Decision Type

Coastal Development Permit

Staff Recommendation

Approval with conditions

Coastal Act Policy