Beachfront Property Complex

It’s been a busy end of the year – which means we haven’t seen as many Christmas DVDs this year as we might normally watch.  But some weeks ago, we did watch “Miracle on 34th Street.”  This is a charming movie from 1994 (which is actually a remake of a movie from 1947).  The movie concerns the reality of Santa Claus.  Richard Attenborough does a masterful job of portraying Kris Kringle in this heartwarming film about whether or not Santa Claus is real.  The climax of the movie occurs in a New York courtroom, where trial judge is called upon to determine whether or not Santa Claus actually does exist.  Following some fancy legal maneuvering, the trial judge makes a final decision, and there’s a happy ending all around.

It’s not every day that a lawyer gets to represent Santa Claus in court.  Dylan McDermott, who represents Kris Kringle in the film, does a great job of portraying the legal eagle who advocates Santa’s cause.  But what are the chances that most lawyers, or even any lawyer, would ever get a chance to represent the “Jolly Old Elf?”

The likelihood that any California lawyer might get a chance to represent Father Christmas in a legal matter may depend, at least in part, on how California Law views Santa Claus.  There are online legal databases that allow for word searches of all California cases.  So – if you were to do a word search of California legal cases, you’d find that the phrase “Santa Claus” actually does appear in a number of California cases. In one case, a police officer dressed up as Santa Claus and led a procession of motorcycles in a “pursuit for Kids Toy Ride.”  Amezcua v. Los Angels Harley Davidson (2011) 200 Cal. App. 4th 217.  In another case, a witness offered testimony at trial which the Court compared the testimony to a belief in Santa Claus.  People v. Moret (2009) 180 Cal. App. 4th 839.  And there’s even a case involving beachfront real estate – which is briefly described as follows.

The development of California’s coastal lands are regulated by law.  California beaches, or “tidelands,” are generally publicly owned.  This means that most tidelands and beaches are owned by the people of the State of California and not by private owners or investors.  However, there is a “line” where the beach “stops” and where private ownership of land begins.  This “line” is known as the “Mean High Tide Line.”  Land which is closer to the sea is “seaward” of the line and is owned by the public.  Land which is further from the sea is “landward” of the line, and such property can be owned by private individuals.  It’s very interesting to note that this property “line” does not stay a fixed location.  It changes over time with the level of the sea and the erosion or build-up of the shore.  It’s one of the very few property lines that can be constantly changing over time.

The California State Lands Commission is charged with the oversight of these beachfront lands.  The Commission adopted a policy which said that building, or development, is prohibited if it is any closer to the sea than position where the “Mean High Tide Line” has ever been.  In other words, if a parcel of land is presently located on the “landward” side of the line, but in the past it was located on the “seaward” side of the line, then the policy would prevent such landowner from ever building on such land.

In the case of Bollay v. California Office of Administrative Law (2011) 193 Cal. App. 4th 103, a landowner challenged the policy of the Commission.  Initially, the trial court held that the commission’s policy was valid and effective. But the Court of Appeal found that among other things, the policy would prohibit the development of land that is not now owned by the State of California and which may never in the future be owned by the State of California.  As a result, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and found that the Commission’s policy was invalid.

Notwithstanding this holding, the development of beachfront property involves complex legal considerations, and persons considering building, developing, or remodeling beachfront properties should consult appropriate legal counsel.

So how does such a case involve Santa Claus?  The beachfront property at issue was located on Santa Claus lane in Carpinteria.

Copyright 2017 ROBERT B. JACOBS