The August 7 article, “Unbridled,” contained some factual errors and misleading statements regarding the Coastal Commission’s enforcement authority generally, and the Commission’s specific actions on a series of Coastal Act violations at Malibu Valley Farms (MVF).
The article cites the MVF enforcement case as an example of how the Coastal Commission might misuse administrative penalty authority, should AB 976 become law. While it is true that the Commission issued an Enforcement Order to MVF to address a number of Coastal Act violations on the property, at no point did the Commission seek to impose penalties for these violations, which included the unpermitted construction of barns, corrals, and horse breeding facilities directly within and adjacent to a coastal stream and sensitive habitat. The article claims that MVF was trying to rebuild an equestrian facility after it had been destroyed by fire, and that the Commission’s concerns with the unpermitted development were that the structures were built “bigger than the original structures.” While it is true that a brush fire burned portion of the property, the affected structures were constructed illegally in the first place – a fact that was missing from the story. As early as 1999, the Commission informed MVF that all the structures were unpermitted and needed permits.
The story continues with a statement from MVF owner Mr. Boudreau that had he not “had the protection of judicial review” he would have been forced to pay millions of dollars or lose his business. This is simply not true. The Orders issued to MVF provided a mechanism to cure the violations, and this was done without the need for litigation nor the imposition of any penalty. The Commission staff spent several years trying to resolve the violations amicably, only to have MVF submit incomplete permit applications, request delays and continuances, and avoid its obligations under the Coastal Act. Only when a formal action was brought before the Commission did MVF finally address the matter. Moreover, even if AB 976 does become law, alleged violators will still have access to judicial review for any orders or fines issued by the Commission. AB 976 will not alter anyone’s access to the courts.
Finally, Mr. Boudreau claims that the Commission’s decision to allow him to apply for permits was based on its belief that it could not get a maximum fine from the courts. Again, this is not supported by facts. The Enforcement Orders that were approved by the Commission required MVF to simply comply with the Coastal Act and either obtain the necessary permits required by law, or remove the illegal structures and restore the areas to their pre-violation condition. This is a matter of equity, as every other person who legally undertakes development must first obtain a permit before building. Complaining about the cost of permitting and developing a large equestrian facility is not relevant, and ignores costs to the public when the Commission is forced to address complex violations. Commission staff spent countless hours over almost a decade urging Mr. Boudreau and MVF to comply with the Coastal Act. Simply complying with the Coastal Act at the outset would have saved MVF a considerable amount of money and time.
Administrative penalty authority creates a deterrence effect that will prevent illegal development from happening in the first place. That is why the Commission is supporting AB 976. Because preventing violations is the most cost-effective way to protect the coast.