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May 3, 2012

Landowner’s Proposed Beachfront Patio Extension Was Inconsistent with Coastal Policies and Local Regulations, and His Failure to Pursue an Administrative Determination of Vested Rights Precluded Judicial Review of that Claim

Landowner’s Proposed Beachfront Patio Extension Was Inconsistent with Coastal Policies and Local Regulations, and His Failure to Pursue an Administrative Determination of Vested Rights Precluded Judicial Review of that Claim

Jamieson v. City Council of City of Carpinteria [Second District Court of Appeal No. B232348, filed 2/28/12, certified for publication 3/28/12]

By Andrea A. Matarazzo

Landowner Lee Jamieson filed a petition for administrative mandamus challenging the City of Carpinteria’s denial of his request for a permit to enlarge a condominium patio on beachfront property.  The trial court denied his petition and he appealed, claiming a vested right to expand the patio as well as asserting that the City’s permit denial was not supported by substantial evidence.  In rejecting both claims, the Court of Appeal took note of the trial court’s “excellent statement of decision” and its statement of facts.

 

In 1974, after several years of litigation, owners of beachfront property (including Jamieson’s predecessor in interest, the City, and the State of California) agreed to settle a dispute by a stipulated judgment.  The judgment determined a “judgment line” that divided the area into two sections – the public beach seaward of the judgment line and the private beach landward of the judgment line.  The judgment prohibited property owners from building “any structures of any kind or nature over, on or across the Private Beach” except for “the installation and maintenance of flat, surfaced patios and appropriate landscaping.”

 

In 2002, Jamieson’s predecessor applied to the California Coastal Commission to convert the then-apartments into condominiums.  The Commission granted the permit, but required that the private peach “be left untouched so that existing vegetation may be allowed to stabilize the dunes.”

 

In 2003, the City adopted a coastal land use plan which it began imposing a “string-line” standard to limit beachfront development.  This would require a property owner to “run an imaginary line between the farthest extension of existing structures of the two properties on either side of the proposed development in order to establish the farthest extent of permissible construction.”

 

Also in 2003, Jamieson, as owner of one of the condominium units, sought a permit from the City to allow him to replace an existing 150 square foot concrete patio with a new 295 square foot patio on the private beach side of the judgment line.  The City approved the permit but limited it to 257 square feet based on the string-line standard.

 

In 2005, Jamieson purchase a second condominium unit in the same building.  He combined his two condominiums with an approved City permit.  He combined his two patios, which gave him a total of approximately 517 square feet.  Three years later, Jamieson submitted an application for a permit to add an additional 548 square feet to his patio landward of the judgment line.  The City advised Jamieson that he would need a coastal permit and that his expansion was not consistent with the string-line standard.  Based on this response, Jamieson filed suit, asking the court to (1) declare the rights and responsibilities of the City and Jamieson as parties to the 1974 judgment and (2) issue a writ of mandate reversing the City Council’s decision to deny the project and instructing the City to issue a coastal development permit for construction of the 548 square foot patio expansion.  The trial court rejected Jamieson’s claims on the “grounds that no vested right was involved and substantial evidence supported the City’s denial of the permit.”

 

Following the trial court’s decision, Jamieson filed a claim for a vested rights exemption with the Coastal Commission, claiming that he could extend the patio pursuant to the stipulated judgment.  The Commission denied his claim. Jamieson did not appeal the Coastal Commission’s decision.  Jamieson then filed an application for a coastal development permit with the City.  The City denied the permit application, finding that the proposed patio expansion was not in conformity with the City’s coastal use plan, including the string-line standard.

 

On appeal, Jamieson admitted that his failure to appeal the Commission’s denial of his vested rights claim precluded him from claiming a vested right under the Coastal Act.  He argued that his failure to appeal the Commission’s decision does not deprive the court from determining whether the stipulated judgment confers a vested right.  He further argued that even if there was no vested right pursuant to the stipulated judgment, the trial court erred in determining the City’s denial of his application for a coastal permit was supported by substantial evidence.

 

The Court of Appeal found that Jamieson’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies by appealing the Commission’s decision precluded judicial review of his vested rights claim based on the stipulated judgment.  Further, the court reasoned, “[e]ven if we are not precluded from reviewing the stipulated judgment because Jamieson failed to appeal the Commission’s vested rights determination, we agree with the trial court that it does not confer a vested right to expand the patio free from the application of later-enacted laws that restrict such development,” finding that the terms of the agreement limited the owner’s property rights, including the right to install patios or fences unless properly permitted.  “Had the parties intended the judgment to grant the owners an unrestricted right to install patios and fencing over the entire private beach area, they would have said so.”

 

Because the court had concluded that no vested right was involved, it then reviewed the City’s decision to deny the development permit by applying the substantial evidence test.  According to the court, the City’s administrative review process had been extensive, at the conclusion of which the City determined that the proposed patio extension did not conform to the policies in the City’s coastal land use plan.  The City’s findings denying the requested permit were reasonable and supported by substantial evidence, and the appellate court therefore upheld them.

 

Authored by:

Andrea A. Matarazzo

(916) 496-8500

(916) 737-5838 (Direct)

andrea@pioneerlawgroup.net

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