The California Coastal Commission: A Case Study in Governmental Assault on Property Rights

Imagine the following:

  1. A couple improves their oceanside backyard with tables and benches, a barbecue pit and kitchenette, an outdoor shower and restroom, and a beautiful flower garden. Thirty years later, government officials inspect the yard and declare that the amenities are ugly and out of character with the surrounding area, and that, because the amenities underscore the fact that the yard is private, they have a detrimental psychological effect on the public traversing the adjacent beach. The government orders the couple to clear out their yard and restore it to its “natural” condition, or face stiff penalties.
  2. A man purchases a vacant lot along the Pacific coast with the dream of building his residence there, but when he submits his building plans to the local government, he is told that the size and location of his structure would sully boaters’ views of the coastline. The government demands that he reduce the size of his proposed home to one-quarter its planned size and place it in a geologically hazardous corner of the lot.
  3. A family that has been cramped for years in a mobile home on their 143-acre ranch wants to build a house large enough to accommodate them, but when they apply for a building permit, the government tells the family that, in exchange for permission to build, they must agree to a perpetual agricultural easement over almost all of their land—an “agreement” that would force the family and future generations to farm the property forever.

Unfortunately, we need not imagine any of these scenarios, because they are true stories of real people suffering at the hands of a real tyrant. Even as you read, these and other such abuses are occurring in California. The tyrant in question is the California Coastal Commission, a state bureaucracy with near-limitless authority over people’s property and, thus, their lives.

Although the Commission’s power to dictate how property owners may use their property is limited to certain regions in California, similar commissions exist in other states, and the Commission’s endeavors provide an ideal case study regarding how and why governmental bodies at all levels across America are increasingly violating property rights. Let us begin our study by looking at the history and nature of the Commission. . . .

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