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Big Brother Just Got Bigger in California
The law of the coast…
[Steven Hayward] 8/11/05

Life on the central coast lives up to the clichés of Lotus-land loopiness, starting with the story in the paper this week about a couple who planned a sunset wedding out at the beach, except that the minister who was planning to perform the ceremony failed to show up. No problem: This is California.

After a short detour to a local restaurant, the locals rousted the town’s “hippie minister,” as the local paper described him, who performed the ceremony on the restaurant’s creek-side deck. Sounds like an even happier place than Disneyland, but not if you happen to be Dennis C. Schneider, for whom the central coast has become a Neverland nightmare.

Steven Hayward
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Dr. Steven Hayward is Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies for the Pacific Research Institute. He is also nationally recognized for his recently released book, The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order 1964-1980 (Prima Publishing, 2001), and Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity (Prima Publishing, 1997). [go to Hayward index]

Schneider owns a 41-acre parcel of coastland out of sight and over the hill from Pacific Coast Highway, on which he proposes to build a 10,000 square foot residence—a mere bungalow by California standards these days. Even though the proposed house could not be seen from any point on land, the California Coastal Commission denied Mr. Schneider’s building permit application on the grounds that the Commission needed to protect the view from the ocean that is enjoyed by kayakers, boaters, and surfers. The Commission told Schneider that he could build if he cut the size of his house in half, dropped plans to build a barn and guest house, and moved the location of the house 1,000 feet further away from the ocean.

Schneider sensibly went to court. Unfortunately, he didn’t count on meeting Superior Court Judge Roger Picquet, who sided with the Coastal Commission, commenting that “It is clear to the court that the beauty of a sunrise from a vantage point offshore is afforded the same protection as a sunset seen from land.”

Following this logic, why can’t the Commission ban boats from spoiling the ocean view from my house and scaring away the migrating whales I like to watch? Boat traffic on this part of the central coast is very light, and nobody kayaks or surfs at this remote location, so it is clear that the Coastal Commission is looking to widen its power to regulate.

This case reveals the anti-human animus that motivates the Coastal Commission, a body dating from the administration of Jerry Brown. The Golden State did very well without the Commission, which narrowly survived a challenge to its constitutionality. One Commissioner served time on corruption charges for shaking down movie stars in return for approval on building projects.

Are houses that ugly? Even Judge Picquet acknowledged that the planned home was “a beautifully designed residential project” whose Commission-proposed restrictions was akin to “being nibbled to death by ducks.” But Commission director Peter Douglas says such houses “have a huge impact in visual resources.”

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine the dialogue between the Coastal Commission and William Randolph Hearst over Hearst’s idea to build “La Casa Grande” at San Simeon. “You want to build what?! Maybe we’ll let you build a little circus tent cottage.”

Come to think of it, I wonder how long it will be before the Coastal Commission demands that Hearst Castle be torn down to improve the view of the mountains. Or perhaps we will see a proposal for the state Interior Commission to make similar demands based on "visual resources" in the Sierra. After all, this is California. CRO

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute




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