Contact: J. David Breemer
Principal Attorney
Pacific Legal Foundation
(916) 419-7111

PLF and Sterling family defeat a second land grab by Cal. Coastal Commission

El Granada (San Mateo County), CA; July 27, 2011: For the second time in two years, Dan Sterling and his family have defeated an attempt by the California Coastal Commission to illegally and unconstitutionally violate their property rights, as they’ve tried to negotiate the permit process to get approval to build a family home on their own land.

Dan and his wife live in the unincorporated area of San Mateo County, with their four children. They currently live in a mobile home on their property, and have been trying for more than a decade to get a building permit to put up a house in which to live.

“Now that we’ve beaten the Coastal Commission’s unconstitutional demands a second time, we hope there is light at the end of this long tunnel, and we’ll finally be able to build our home.”
–Dan SterlingThe latest ruling, from San Mateo County Superior Court Judge George A. Miram, has just been received by the Sterlings and their attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation. Judge Miram held that the Commission acted illegally, and violated the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution, by demanding that the Sterlings record an open space deed restriction on all their property outside their single family home building site “” i.e., a restriction covering about 140 acres “” as the price for getting a permit to build their proposed family home.

J. David Breemer, PLF Principal Attorney, “The Sterlings are heroes for standing up to the Coastal Commission’s unconstitutional demands,” said PLF Principal Attorney J. David Breemer, who represented them before Judge Miram.

“The Sterlings have won a victory for property rights that benefits all homeowners and all property owners, all across the state,” said Breemer. “This court victory sends out a loud, clear message that the Fifth Amendment means what it says: Bureaucrats can’t use their permit power as an excuse to take private property to give it to the public.

“The Coastal Commission has been taught a much-needed constitutional lesson once again,” Breemer continued. “It is really outrageous that this agency continues to go after the Sterlings’ property rights.”

This is the second time the Commission has been slapped down
for violating the Sterlings’ property rights

The condition that Judge Miram just struck down is the second oppressive condition the Coastal Commission has tried to impose on the Sterlings, and the second one that has been invalidated in court. Last year, Judge Miram voided, as “flat out unconstitutional,” the Commission’s attempt to force the Sterlings to dedicate an agricultural easement to the public. Under this condition, the Sterlings would have been forced to farm or raise cattle on 142 acres of their land, forever, in order to build a single family home on a 10,000 square foot site “” even though they aren’t farmers or ranchers!

After striking down that permit demand “” the “forced farming” requirement, as PLF calls it “” the judge sent the case back to the Commission so it could reconsider the Sterlings’ application.

But the Commission proceeded to impose a new condition that was as objectionable as the first. This new condition “” the one that has just been struck down “” did not require the Sterlings to engage in farming or ranching, but did demand that they record a deed restriction permanently converting more than 140 acres of their land outside the home site into open space for the public good.

“This condition totally wiped out the Sterlings’ development rights,” said Breemer, “so it would have prevented them from building a second home at some point for their children.”

PLF filed a new complaint on the Sterlings’ behalf, and now Judge Miram has held that the Commission lacked authority to impose the deed restriction condition, and that, even if it had such authority, the condition amounted to an unconstitutional taking because it had no relation to any public need created by the proposed home-construction project.

The court concluded: “The new condition, in the form of an open space deed restriction, is not tailored to the development and is once again irreconcilable with [Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. Tigard “” Supreme Court precedents that forbid using the permit process as a means of seizing property without compensation]. As compared to the Commission’s prior failed attempt to impose an agricultural easement on the property, the Commission’s new attempt is a distinction without a difference.”

“Let’s hope the Commission will get the message and just let the Sterlings build their family home,” said PLF’s Breemer.

“It’s been such a long fight simply to get permission to build a family house on our own property, without having our basic property rights taken away,” said Dan Sterling. “Now that we’ve beaten the Coastal Commission’s unconstitutional demands a second time, we hope there is light at the
end of this long tunnel, and we’ll finally be able to build our home. We’re grateful that Pacific Legal Foundation has been fighting for our property rights “” and the property rights of anyone else who could be victimized by a bureaucracy like this.”

The case is Sterling v. California Coastal Commission.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is a watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and a balanced approach to environmental protection, in courts across the country.