California Coastal Commission Wins Latest Round in Malibu ‘Sins’ Litigation
• Superior Court Judge Rules Against Charges of Civil Rights Violations in Norris Case
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge last week dismissed two Malibu property owners’ high profile allegations that the California Coastal Commission has violated their civil rights.
The so-called Norris case became a cause célèbre in the property rights movement with the distribution of the unreleased documentary “Sins of Commission,” which includes commentary by several in the Malibu community who are longtime critics of the California Coastal Commission.
Southern California filmmaker Richard Oshen bills “Sins” as an expose of how citizens are subjected to the “unelected commission’s autocratic actions wielded, surprisingly, without accountability or oversight” and has alleged CCC efforts to silence the film.
Last Thursday, Judge Luis Lavin granted the commission’s request for summary judgment and ruled that the issues raised in the case against the agency and two Coastal Commission enforcement staffers did not raise issues that warrant further review.
The plaintiffs have not yet indicated whether they plan to continue their legal action.
The commission, however, expressed elation with the court action. “We are pleased but not surprised by the ruling,” said CCC Executive Director Peter Douglas in a prepared statement. “This suit was patently frivolous from the beginning. It’s been a regrettable and costly diversion of public resources, but now we can all get back to work.”
According to CCC enforcement documents, 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 permits. A site visit in October, 2005, was authorized by a court order.”
After reporting that it verified 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 ruling upheld the commission’s action on the majority of the plaintiffs’ claims.
The recent court action eliminated the remaining claims. Lavin’s ruling dismissed the contention that the CCC’s Notice of Violation was a “taking” of their private property and decreed that the allegation that the site inspection violated their civil rights was “without merit.” The ruling states that the commission staff’s actions were “objectively reasonable,” and the case has “no triable issues of material facts.”
Acknowledging the controversy related to Oshen’s documentary, the CCC statement addresses the filmmaker’s public allegations of attempted censorship by the agency.
“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. [Oshen] has always been free to use the footage in any way he wants.”
Oshen has written on an Internet blog that Lavin’s recent ruling is a “travesty of justice.”