The Coast News Group
Mark West, left, and Tom Cook of the Surfrider Foundation on a walking tour of seawalls in Encinitas in June. The Surfrider Foundation has filed its brief in support of the State Coastal Commission in the state Supreme Court case that will determine its authority in regulating seawall permits. File photo by Aaron Burgin
Community Encinitas Encinitas Featured Featured

Surfrider Foundation submits legal brief on seawall case

ENCINITAS — The Surfrider Foundation has filed its brief in support of the State Coastal Commission in the state Supreme Court case that will determine its authority in regulating seawall permits.

The case, Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, will ultimately determine whether the Coastal Commission has the authority to impose time limits on seawall permits. It has pitted environmentalists, who are concerned that too many seawalls will deplete the sandy beaches, against private property owners, who say the Coastal Commission has encroached upon their rights by imposing time limits on such permits.

Citing a recent Stanford Law School report that raises concern about the harmful effects of seawalls on the coastline, the Surfrider Foundation’s legal brief outlines its concerns over possible changes to the way seawalls are planned, reviewed and managed, the foundation wrote in a news release.

Changes in the regulatory authority, officials said, could lead to limited beach access and recreational opportunities.

“The arguments we submitted today are a substantial effort to make certain that seawalls pose no threat to public beach access or recreation opportunities as conditions change along our coastline due to sea level rise,” said Staley Prom, the Surfrider Foundation’s legal associate. “We are confident the Court will uphold the long-standing California tradition of preserving affordable public access to the coast and the many recreational opportunities it holds.”

The foundation in its legal brief cited Stanford Law’s 2015 California Coastal Armoring report, which stated that seawalls have already “diminished California’s beaches and habitat, irreversibly altered bluffs, caused increased erosion to neighboring properties and marred that natural beauty of the coast.”

The study also reconfirmed the long held scientific finding that when seawalls are placed on an eroding or retreating beach, like many of San Diego’s beaches, especially those in north county, seawalls will “cause that beach to narrow and eventually disappear.”

The report also provides examples of seawalls that were erected without proper oversight and how they cause damage to beaches and neighboring properties.

“The issues covered by this case are crucial to ensuring the sustainability of our beaches here in San Diego,” said Julia Chunn-Heer, the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego County policy manager. “We will continue to educate and engage coastal communities about the impacts of seawall development and sea level rise to ensure that our public beaches continue to be the treasure they are today.”

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.

The Surfrider Foundation is joined by the American Planning Association’s national and state chapters, which filed legal briefs this week in support of the Coastal Commission.

The Supreme Court will likely take up the matter some time in early 2016.