Hefty Fines Imposed on Beach Trolls

New Ordinance Allows California Coastal Commission to Combat Those who Impede Beach Access

By Chad Colton

Here in San Diego we assume that the beach means fun, sun, and good times with friends; it’s practically a birthright. But it also means money. Some of the most expensive coastline in the world is located a mere stone’s throw from our campus, and the people who own that property may not want you around. In fact, they might even be willing to do something illegal to keep you out.

As of July 1, the California Coastal Commission successfully championed legislation sponsored by San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins which imposes fines up to $11,250 per day on property owners who illegally post signs that warn “No Trespassing,” “No Parking,” or otherwise impede access to coastal areas that citizens have a right to enjoy.  Other methods include painting curbs red, erecting fences, and even creating bogus curb cuts that lead to fake garage doors attached to the side of the house.  The intent is to deceive average beach goers into thinking that their cars will be towed and impounded, or that they may even get arrested just for being in the area. The fines take effect 30 days after the Coastal Commission gives notice to the property owner that they are in violation.

“The point of the penalties is to create a deterrent,” said Lisa Haage, Chief of Enforcement for the Coastal Commission. “It’s to avoid violations…there is a certain kind of person who does not respond well to us asking them to do the right thing. This is designed for that population.” She asserts that the new law simply gives the Coastal Commission penalizing authority that other state agencies such as air pollution control already possess. But homeowners, some of whom have spent millions of dollars for what they feel is their exclusive right to the sand and surf and are not so eager to open their doors to the sweaty, sandy masses, are crying foul.

Damien Schiff is a lead attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, a group known to represent homeowners against the CCC. He points out, “The commission could say, ‘We think there is access, we’re going to order you to allow the public to obtain that access,’ and then the onus would be upon the property owner to bring an action in court to reverse the decision.” That is not necessarily fair to homeowners, especially those who are not millionaires.  “Let’s say the commission issues a penalty for $25,000. The cost of bringing an action, hiring your own counsel, and successfully arguing that in a trial court could reach six figures. Even if the property owner thought they were absolutely right, the cost of making that point would just be prohibitive.”

The ordinance could be a victory for the average beach goer, but the real problem is enforcement. The CCC can only act on reported violations, and even then enforcement is not immediate. A property owner could simply remove a sign, and then replace it once the problem appears to have gone away. Time will tell how much bark or bite this new ordinance really has.

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