Coastal Commission arrogance sinks couple’s retirement home plans

The Greenes need to make space for a mechanized staircase chair glide, but coastal bureaucrats block their modest remodel with illegal restrictions

The California Coastal Commission is shattering a senior couple’s hopes to live out their retirement years in their modest Playa del Rey home, by slapping crippling restrictions on their renovation plans so it will be difficult if not impossible to install a mechanized staircase chair glide to help with mobility problems.

Because the conditions imposed on Mark and Bella Greene bear no relation to any public impact caused by their proposed remodeling plan, they have just sued the commission for an unconstitutional abuse of the permitting power.

The Greenes are represented, free of charge, by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s premier legal watchdog for property rights, and California’s leading litigator against property rights infringements by the Coastal Commission.

“The Coastal Commission doesn’t have the power to upend property owners’ reasonable development plans on a whim,” said PLF Senior Attorney Larry Salzman.  “All the Greenes want is to update their home to make it comfortable in retirement, including a modest expansion similar to their neighbors’ properties.  Neither the Coastal Act nor the Constitution permit the commission to stop them, because their proposed development imposes no negative impacts on their neighbors or the public.”

Bureaucrats behaving capriciously — and unconstitutionally

Dr. Mark Greene is currently a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.  Looking forward to retirement, he and his wife Bella purchased a modest beachfront home in Playa del Rey 11 years ago, where they hope to relocate after expanding the first and second floors to meet their retirement living needs.  Because Bella tore her meniscus two years ago, and this condition could become a greater issue as she gets older, their renovation plan included space for a mechanized staircase chair glide to ensure she could use the house for years to come.

Their plan, with a one-foot setback from the beachfront property line, was fully consistent with renovations on both nearby homes, and the City of Los Angeles approved it.  But the Coastal Commission balked, saddling the Greenes with unjustified permit conditions that make their proposed remodel impossible.  Among these new mandates:  The home must be set back at least five feet from the edge of their property line — even though the commission had approved one-foot setbacks for neighboring homes.

The commission’s expanded setback eliminates interior space needed on the ground floor to accommodate Bella Greene’s proposed chairlift.

“Some commissioners tried to rationalize their demand by suggesting they are concerned about issues of public access,” noted PLF staffer Jeffrey McCoy.  “However, as a couple of the other commissioners conceded, the Greenes’ property is 550 feet away from the ocean and 300 feet from a bike path that runs along the beach.  The Greenes’ remodel would be on their own private property and would not block any path to the ocean.  The Greenes will not, and cannot, prevent anyone from using public property.

“Despite these facts, the commission demanded that the Greenes scrap plans for the remodel and submit new ones that would make the home not only smaller than their neighbors’, but make it impossible for them to use it as their retirement home.”

Dr. Mark Greene:  ‘The commission is acting as if it’s above the law’

“I had come to the Coastal Commission hearing believing in individual rights, which include property rights, and expecting those rights to be respected,” said Mark Greene.  “In theory I had expected that changes to a property that were totally in accordance with prevailing codes and laws should be left to the individual’s needs.  What a shock to discover how greatly I was mistaken, and how cavalierly most members of the commission treated the important questions at stake, including basic principles of fairness and the rule of law.

“Several members did not even bother paying attention during the presentation by our representative.  I am grateful that Pacific Legal Foundation is working with us to take a stand against the commission’s arbitrary and arrogant behavior.  Our case has implications for all property owners, because no government agency can be allowed to operate as if it was above the law.”

The case is Greene v. California Coastal Commission.  More information, including the complaint and an explanatory blog post, may be found at:

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s most powerful ally for justice, litigates in courts nationwide for limited government and property rights.  Up and down the California coast, PLF is the leading litigator against abuses of coastal property rights by governments at all levels.  PLF represents all clients without charge.

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