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The American Planning Association and its state chapter are filing briefs in support of the Coastal Commission in the Lynch v. California Coastal Commission seawall case. File photo
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National planning group throws support behind Coastal Commission

ENCINITAS — A prominent planning organization has thrown its support behind the California Coastal Commission in its legal fight to maintain its regulatory authority over private seawalls.

The case, Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, will ultimately determine whether the Coastal Commission has the authority to impose time limits on seawall permits.

The American Planning Association and its state chapter are filing briefs in support of the Coastal Commission in the case, which a representative said has far-reaching implications both statewide and nationally.

“We think that the case raises important questions about the authority of a regulatory agency to revisit its permit decision as situations change,” said Deborah Rosenthal, an Orange County attorney who is on the APA’s amicus curiae committee, which is filing the brief. “The California chapter is also very interested in the specific impact that climate change is feared to have on coastal development.”

The Surfrider Association’s San Diego chapter in June announced it would also file an amicus curiae brief in support of the Coastal Commission. The Supreme Court this week extended the filing period for both groups until Aug. 7.

The seawall along Grandview Beach, owned by homeowners Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick, is at the heart of the legal battle. Eight months ago, the state Court of Appeal voted to overturn a lower court’s ruling that the state commission overstepped its bounds when it required Lynch and Frick to reapply for a seawall permit after 20 years.

Frick and Lynch’s attorneys have argued that the Coastal Commission’s actions have amounted to a taking of their rights as private property owners, and that the state agency will use the 20-year clause to heap on additional regulations, or force the owners to remove it at that time.

Rosenthal said Thursday morning that the Supreme Court’s ruling has the potential to set precedent that will be followed by courts across the country.

“The Coastal Commission is a leader nationally on coastal issues, the Supreme Court makes decisions that are looked to by many other state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court has a record of taking on California Supreme Court cases,” Rosenthal said. “Because it involves planning issues and authority that goes beyond the coastal commission, the national organization thought it was appropriate as a friend court to bring the national policy issues to its attention.”

The APA, Rosenthal said, periodically will submit “friends of the court” briefs on such cases.

The seawall case dates back to 2010, when the families applied for a permit to build a 100-foot-tall, state-of-the-art concrete seawall to replace their aging wooden one and rebuild the private staircase from their homes to the beach below, after storms in 2010 largely wiped out both structures.

The city of Encinitas approved their applications, but the Coastal Commission stepped in and denied the permit for the staircase and would only allow the families to rebuild the wall with the 20-year stipulation, to which the families agreed.