Residents concerned storms will sink coastal homes

Concerns over coast highlighted in Half Moon Bay legal battle

The aerial view of half moon bay, California (Getty Images)
The aerial view of half moon bay, California (Getty Images)

Last winter’s storms wreaked havoc along California’s coastline, damaging infrastructure and prompting repairs. 

While much of the destruction has been addressed, a different coastal challenge is unfolding in Half Moon Bay, impacting billions of dollars in property and numerous public beaches, the Mercury News reported.

In 2016, storms caused bluffs to collapse near Casa Mira, a townhouse complex. 

Seeking protection, homeowners applied to build a concrete seawall, supported by the Coastal Commission staff due to its safeguarding of the California Coastal Trail and a sewer line.

“Up until that storm, we had no problems,” former resident Paula Skinner told the outlet. “It was a gorgeous place to be. I always felt I’d like to die there. I could look out on the ocean from my living room and bedroom.”

In July 2019, the Coastal Commission rejected the seawall, citing concerns about beach erosion and setting a precedent. 

The homeowners, facing the removal of existing boulders that protected their homes, sued the Coastal Commission. 

In July 2022, they secured a victory when a judge ruled the Coastal Commission violated the Coastal Act by not balancing environmental protection with private property rights.

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The key issue revolves around the definition of “existing structures.” 

While the Coastal Act mandates permits for seawalls to protect such structures, the Coastal Commission argued it only applies to those built before Jan. 1, 1977. 

The judge rejected that interpretation, and the Coastal Commission appealed in September.

The case’s significance lies in its potential to impact coastal development throughout California. 

If the property owners prevail, it could lead to a broader allowance for seawalls and protective structures, challenging the Coastal Commission’s ability to regulate such developments in the face of rising seas. 

The debate reflects the broader dilemma of addressing sea level rise, with potential impacts on existing coastal properties and public beaches. 

“This is an extremely significant case,” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Jeremy Talcott told the outlet. “It addresses the question of which coastal landowners are entitled to protection of their private property under the Coastal Act when sea level rise begins to threaten their homes.”