Case against Coastal Commission dismissed

Press release

Posted by on Mon, August 24, 2009

The case that was dismissed is featured in the unreleased documentary "Sins of Commission".

NOTE: This is largely the Coastal Commission’s press release, and is not an objective account.

In a well-known suit by two Malibu property owners’ suit against the California Coastal Commission, a judge has ruled in favor of the commission on all counts [pdf of ruling]. The action by Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin today granted the commission’s request for summary judgment, ruling that the issues raised in the case did not warrant further review. The ruling exonerates the agency, as well as two Commission employees named in the suit. 

This is the case that inspired Richard Oshen’s as-yet-unreleased documentary entitled "Sins of Commission."

The case involved illegal roads, grading and tree removal on property owned by Dan Norris and Peggy Gilder. Because the property is located in the coastal zone, these activities required coastal development permit. A site visit in October, 2005, was authorized by a court order. After verifying illegal development on site, the Commission issued a "Notice of Violation" on the property and told the owners to apply for a permit. The owners refused, and sued the Commission. Last year, a superior court upheld the Commission’s action and threw out five of their 8 claims. Today’s action eliminated all remaining claims. 

The case has generated controversy, because Gilder’s friend, Richard Oshen, filmed the site visit and used it as the basis for a documentary that is highly critical of the Coastal Commission. When the Commission requested copies of the footage as evidence in the case, Oshen complained that the Commission was trying to censor him. 

"We did nothing of the sort," said Commission Chief Counsel Hope Schmeltzer. "His friends asked him to film our site visit, then sued us for trespassing and damages. We just wanted a copy of the footage to defend ourselves in court. He has always been free to use the footage in any way he wants." 

Now the Commission won’t have to bother. Lavin’s ruling dismissed every one of the defendants’ claims, including the claim that the Notice of Violation was a "taking" of their private property. The allegation that the site inspection violated their civil rights was found to be "without merit." The judge found the Commission staff’s actions to be "objectively reasonable," and found "no triable issues of material facts."  

Objective or not, to live on California’s coast is to understand that there is no such thing as Private Property, whether that be to clear and use an old wagon road (as described in this article), or to build Coast Highway through one’s ranch (Rindge Co. v. County of Los Angeles).

Oshen’s “Sins of Commission” may end up sharing comparable honors with “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.

Comment 3
Mon, August 24, 2009 10:26pm
Scott Boyd
All my comments

but Plan 9 is a classic!

Judge Lavin’s ruling is a travesty of justice. SINS OF COMMISSION makes it abundantly clear there is no justice for the people of California embroiled in Coastal Commission cases. The judiciary, the people’s last hope, is in collusion with the triple c, and Californians living inland are going to find out what coastal families already know if AB 226 and 291 pass. This legislation could be precedent setting for other governmental agencies and would have a profound affect on inland properties as well.  Sadly, this has nothing to do with protection of the environment - it is all about regulatory taking of land.
PS- thanks for the cool graphic. Looks great! A higher resolution one is available at - so is the trailer. I would love to be in same league as Planet 9.

Best wishes,

Richard Oshen, Filmmaker SINS OF COMMISSION

SINS OF COMMISSION makes it abundantly clear that some film makers are willing to distort the truth for financial gain. Except that in this case, there may not be any financial gain.

Too bad, Mr. Oshen. You could have made a good film about the CCC had you not been swayed by the predicament of your friends and their attorney that sees everything through the lens of Nollan v. CCC. Perhaps you still can.

By the way, AB226 and AB291 are long overdue. AB226 allows the Commission to assess fines, just like other state regulatory agencies. AB291 will prevent the CCC from processing coastal development permits if the applicant has unresolved Coastal Act violations on their property. Both are good laws that should be enacted and signed into law.

Comment 6
Tue, August 25, 2009 10:05am
Barry Parr
All my comments

Richard, in what sense is the judiciary “in collusion” with the Coastal Commission?

It seems to me that they’re upholding the law, and that these state laws are consistent with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the fifth amendment.

Generally I’ve found that when people say they don’t like the Coastal Commission, what they’re really saying is that they don’t like the law. And when they get in trouble with the CCC, it’s because they’ve broken the law.

So Mr. Oshen, the judge is corrupt too? The conspiracy never ends, does it? Amazing. Why not sue the judge and make another “movie?” You have nothing better to do than attack hardworking people with your venomous propaganda? Not to mention wasting the court’s time with your frivolous lawsuits against government employees - and the unfortunate neighbors who simply called to report a crime in their neighborhood? What a shame.

I’ve withdrawn a comment released by mistake.

It was too personally insulting to one of the participants in the conversation.

UPDATE: The comment has been edited at the poster’s request and re-released.

Comment 9
Sat, August 29, 2009 9:02pm
Dan Blick
All my comments

How is requiring a development permit a “taking” of property?

When I see a sign on the road that says “NO LEFT TURN,” has my car been confiscated by the government?

That’s just it, Dan.  Folks understand that they will be told what to do on our public roads, but don’t accept that public laws apply to what they (can or can not) develop on their private California coastal land.

Anneliese—Use permits are required all throughout the US. Seems to me a lot of folks accept that permits are required to develop their private land. They may not like it, but they accept the law.

They accept the law until it applies to them.  And true, throughout the U.S., but it seems that the CCC bears extraordinary criticism over any other regulatory agency in the U.S., yes?