In Beach and Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solano Beach (2018) 28 Cal.App.5th 244, filed October 17, 2018, the Fourth Appellate District concluded that a petitioner’s remedy for challenges to policies under the California Coastal Act was exclusively limited to a writ of administrative mandamus (Code Civil Proc., § 1094.5) and that to the extent the challenge raised constitutional claims, those challenges failed on the merits.
In 2014, the California Coastal Commission approved the city’s amended land use plan (ALUP), pursuant to its local coastal program under the provisions of the Coastal Act. The amendments provided conditions and restrictions on the use, expansion, and repair of private coastal access stairways and retaining walls to protect new development or accessory buildings, and conditions under which private access stairways must be converted to public use.
Petitioner Beach and Bluff Conservancy alleged that the ALUP policies violated the Coastal Act, were unconstitutional, or both, and filed both a writ of mandate under traditional mandamus (CCP § 1085) and complaint for declaratory relief. The lower court ruled for the Conservancy, finding two of seven policies inconsistent with the Coastal Act. This appeal and cross-appeal followed.
First, the court found that, as the Coastal Act expressly provides, a writ of mandate is the exclusive remedy for a challenge to a Commission-certified policy on the ground that it is inconsistent with the Act. The Coastal Act requires the Commission to certify a local government’s LUP and amendments as consistent with the Act, by vote of the commissioners, pursuant to a noticed public hearing followed by written findings. In doing so, the Commission clearly acts in a quasi-judicial capacity, under CCP section 1094.5. It is well-established that an action for declaratory relief is not appropriate to review an administrative decision. Accordingly, the court held that the petitioner’s challenges to four ALUP policies alleging they were inconsistent with the Act were barred by the petitioner’s failure to file a timely writ petition for administrative mandamus.
Although the Conservancy’s facial constitutional challenges were not subject to CCP’s section 1094.5 filing procedures, the court held that these allegations failed on the merits. Facial constitutional challenges are generally disfavored because they often rest on speculation and may lead to premature interpretation of the enactment on the basis of a “bare-bones” record. A petitioner has a heavy burden to demonstrate that an enactment is facially unconstitutional.
The court found that the petitioner’s regulatory takings challenge failed because they could not demonstrate that the enactments effected a physical taking or deprived the owners of all economically beneficial or viable use of their property. The policy that provided for conversions of private stairways to a public stairways could not be deemed to facially conflict with constitutional takings principles, because the policy did not inevitably require a property conversion. Rather, the policy provided that conversion would occur only if specified conditions are met (when public access can be feasibly provided and the stairway already uses some public land per a deed restriction or public easement).
The court also ruled that allegations under the “unconstitutional conditions doctrine,” which limits the government’s power to require surrender of a constitutional right in exchange for a discretionary benefit, also failed. The doctrine applies only where the condition constitutes an exaction in the form of a conveyance of a property interest or the payment of money. It does not apply where, as here, the government simply restricts the use of property without demanding an exaction. And, the Nollan/Dolan test developed to determine if an exaction is permissible applies only to permit approvals, and not to facial constitutional challenges.
Lastly, the court opined that the disposition of this appeal does not preclude future “as-applied” constitutional challenges to the ALUP. Citing federal law with approval, the court stated that the doctrine of res judicata (and collateral estoppel) does not bar claims that arise from events that postdate the filing of the initial complaint. Affected property owners can always challenge the application of these policies as applied to their properties.