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2nd District: Coastal Development Oversight Can’t Be Forced on County

California’s landmark Coastal Act of 1972 provides more than one path for local agencies, such as cities and counties, to assume authority over Coastal Development Permits (CDPs). But the Act does not impose any time limit within which local agencies must assume that authority, according to a newly published decision favoring the State of California and the County of Los Angeles (Hagopian v. State of California). Deborah J. Fox and Peter S. Hayes of Meyers Nave represented the County in this matter.

Under the Coastal Act, all development in the state’s coastal zone requires a CDP.  The state’s Coastal Commission is initially vested with authority to issue and enforce CDPs, but that authority transfers to cities or counties, within the segments of the coastal zone those local agencies control, once they obtain Commission certification of a Local Coastal Program, or LCP.  In Hagopian v. State of California, the Second District Court of Appeal has held that local agencies are under no court-enforceable obligation to complete LCPs, or to assume coastal permitting authority, in any particular manner, or by any particular deadline.

The case was brought by members of the Hagopian family, who built eight structures, graded for a second residence, created a commercial vineyard, and installed an access road, a solar panel array, a pool and a tennis court – all without CDPs – on their property in the Santa Monica Mountains area of the coastal zone, an area for which no LCP has been certified.  The Commission undertook permit enforcement, found the Hagopians had violated the Coastal Act, and issued cease-and- desist and restoration orders. The Hagopians petitioned for judicial review, asserting that the County (not the Commission) was the proper coastal permitting body. The Hagopians also alleged that the Commission had violated their due process rights and lacked substantial evidence for its findings of violation.  The Court rejected all these arguments, and upheld the permit enforcement action.

The Court held that, although Section 30500 of the Coastal Act obligates local agencies to complete an LCP and assume permitting authority in consultation with the Commission, the Act does not impose any time limit within which those processes must be completed.  The Court held that the County and the Commission were continuing their work toward certification of an LCP and that, in such circumstances, the County had not violated any obligation under the Coastal Act.  The Court also held that, pending completion and certification of an LCP, the Commission remained the duly authorized body to administer and enforce CDPs in the Santa Monica Mountains area.

The Court also held that the County was not compelled to proceed under Sections 30600 and 30600.5 of the Coastal Act, which allow a local agency to assume limited and “interim” permitting authority, prior to completion of an LCP, by obtaining certification of a land use plan and passing an ordinance setting out CDP-issuance procedures. The Court held that assumption of interim permitting authority under these sections of the Coastal Act was discretionary, and so was not a duty that could be enforced against the County. Finally, the Court rejected the Hagopians’ arguments regarding the Commission’s hearing conduct and findings.