Civil Penalty Administration - the Lents
|Summary||A private residence immediately adjacent to Malibu Beach and with private beach access was issued a Cease and Desist Order and Administrative Civil Penalty due to a failure to comply with the CDP requirement to provide a public accessway through their property. The access point at issue sits in the middle of an approximate three-mile stretch of coastline across several Malibu beaches with no public access: the nearest currently open access is at Carbon Beach, 1.7 miles away.
Since 2002, the Lents have continued to maintain a private stairway, fence and gate, and deck that were constructed directly within the vertical public access easement and impedes the construction of a public accessway since they purchased the Property in 2002, and have knowingly refused to remove the development and resolve these Coastal Act violations since Commission staff notified them of the violations in 2007. The Lents have maintained the unpermitted development encroaching into the public easement and resisted all requests for the removal of those encroachments. Without this access point, Las Flores Beach is essentially privatized.
This is the Lents’ additional owned property, not primary residence, and has been used since at least 2002 as a temporary vacation rental and advertised on VRBO.com since at least 2007 and other websites for an average nightly rate of $1018 and up to $9,200 a week and $32,000 per month. They highlight beach access for visitors as one of the features of the home in their rental announcements. All the while they have knowingly maintained these private encroachments and used them for personal private beach access and financial gain.
|Outcome Description||Commissioners resoundingly took offense at the egregious violation at hand and agreed that staff’s recommendation of a $950,000 fine was insufficient. Deliberation focused on determining an appropriate fine. The Coastal Commission had administrative authority to fine the Lents up to $8.4 million based on the long amount of daily penalties that have accrued.
Commissioner Bochco asked about methodology; staff explained that while there is a methodology to determine the maximum applicable fine codified in legislation, it is up to the Commission to review the circumstances and use their own discretion.
Commissioners noted it was important to send a clear message to violators - 19 of 29 coastal easements in Malibu remain closed today - that the beach is not their private backyard, it belongs to the public. Commissioners also noted the importance of the location of this violation. The access point at issue sits in the middle of an approximate three-mile stretch of coastline across several Malibu beaches with no public access: the nearest currently open access is at Carbon Beach, 1.7 miles away. The easement is one of only three potentially developable beach access points in this longer stretch of coast. As such, this is a really important access point, especially for communities from the San Fernando Valley.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Cease and Desist order and administer a $4.1 million fine.
|Why You Should Care||A report provided by Commission staff to the Commission in 2012 found that in the City of Malibu alone, 21 of the 29 vertical accessways legally recorded pursuant to Commission CDPs remained closed (and only two more have opened since then).
The commission must send a clear message to them by applying the maximum or higher range of the administrative fine. This will show that the Coastal Commission takes its responsibility to ensure public access to the coast seriously. This will also incentivize violators to settle their violations promptly, rather than engage in long, drawn out battles for decades - as happens currently.
Precluding the Commission’s authority to issue penalties for public access violations against subsequent owners who actively retain those violations would substantially limit the Coastal Act’s effectiveness and undermine the Coastal Commission’s state mandate. Public access and coastal recreation continue to be threatened by private development, illegal encroachments, and other restrictions on beach or coastal access.
That all of the public should enjoy access for recreation at coastal areas is an important concept for environmental justice in California. Securing open public access for all citizens provides low-cost, outdoor recreation that can improve the overall quality of life of all the public, including minority communities. Opening public easements to the coast, especially those already acquired by the state for public recreation, will cumulatively improve public access and reduce environmental injustice concerns.
|Decision Type||ease and Desist Order and Administrative Civil Penalty|
|Staff Recommendation||Approval of Cease and Desist and an administrative fine ranging from $800,000 - $1,500,000|
|Opposition to Project||Surfrider Foundation, California Coastal Protection Network, Coastal Commission Enforcement|
|Coastal Act Policies||Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act, especially Section 30821|
Voting Detail for Civil Penalty Administration - the Lents
|Mary K. Shallenberger|
View Meeting Page for the meeting where this issue was discussed/voted on.