Monday, April 05, 2021

Lent v. California Coastal Commission (Cal. Ct. App. - April 5, 2021)

Warren Lent and his wife Henny bought an oceanfront property in Malibu in 2002 in which there's a five-foot easement for public access to the beach -- an easement that the Coastal Commission required as a condition of building the underlying residence.  Unfortunately for them, there was a deck and stairway to the beach that blocked half of the easement; plus a gate entirely blocking access to the easement area.

I can't tell from the opinion whether the Lents knew about the easement violation when they bought the property.  Regardless, it's their problem now.  Five years after they bought the property, the Commission asked the Lents to take down the gate and the staircase that were blocking the easement.

At this point, the Lents had two options:  (1) Take down the gate and stairs and find another place to put the stairs to "their" beach, or (2) Tell the Coastal Commission to pound sand.

They chose the latter.

What followed was a lengthy fight over access to the beach.  And I mean lengthy.  The request was made in 2007.  In between then and now, there were letters, administrative hearings, a writ of mandate, and (in the end) today's trip to the Court of Appeal.

The Commission didn't like the Lents' refusal to take down the stairs.  It thought that this was an egregious violation.  So it socked the Lents with a fairly monster-sized penalty:  $4,185,000.

That's a big chunk of change.  At the same time, we're talking about a long time of blocking access to the beach, and in an arguably egregious fashion.  I also suspect that the underlying beachfront residence in Malibu is worth . . . a lot.

The Court of Appeal concluded that what the Commission did was perfectly fine.  So it reinstated the penalty (which had been vacated by the trial court).  So no more gate, no more stairs, and $4.1 million (plus their not-insubstantial attorney's fees) less for the Lents.

That's definitely a big hit.  That said, Warren Hent appears to be a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills (with the web site "" no less -- and one with an oceanfront Malibu home to boot.  So I suspect that Warren and Henny can pay the fine.

Still.  It's a biggie.

Maybe they should have removed the encroaching deck and gate in the first place, eh?