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The Lechuza Villas West Story

 Lechuza Villas West, a California development company, purchased 17 beachfront lots for $2 million in Malibu, California in 1990. The company wanted to build single-family houses similar in size, type and distance from the ocean as the numerous homes located on either side of its property. But the California Coastal Commission (CCC) refused to allow the company to build on the grounds that every few years the high tide would temporarily advance on to its property.

After obtaining approvals from various Los Angeles County government agencies, the company applied for a permit from the CCC, which is charged with managing beachfront development. The CCC rejected its permit applications four times between October 1990 and January 1993, citing a litany of alleged environmental hazards posed by its construction plans.

The most novel of these objections was the state's argument that changes in the high tide boundary prohibited any private development. Under state law, beachfront property owners are not allowed to build on any part of the beach covered by high tide. The purpose of this restriction is to ensure that the public can use a portion of the beach between private property and the ocean. Although this seemed reasonable, the CCC claimed that, on seven occasions between 1946 and 1988, the average high tide line temporarily advanced inland onto the company's property, thus submerging the easement for public use. The CCC denied the company's building permit even though three beachfront homes similar to those proposed by it were approved and built after the company acquired the lots.

Lechuza Villas West challenged all of the denials in a Los Angeles County Superior Court. After the fourth denial, the company returned to the state court, seeking to overturn the denials of the permit applications and receive compensation for the agency's taking. The trial court ruled that the CCC could not cite a fluctuating high tide boundary because the boundary between private property and public tidelands was indeed a fixed line. The company's damages were deferred to a later trial, but it never took place. A state appellate court ruled that the company had not exhausted all of its legal remedies before making a takings claim. Both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Lechuza Villas West's case.

The family applied for a zoning variance from the County Board of Appeals arguing that the brick path was essential because Leah would not be able to negotiate a gravel path in her wheelchair while wood decking, which is permissible under the law, would be too slippery. The Critical Areas Commission filed an objection to the Mastandreas' request, arguing that the law would only permit a brick path from the Mastandreas' home down to their wheelchair accessible dock but not along the shoreline. The board sided with the Mastandreas in a 3 to 2 vote.
Source: Pacific Legal Foundation