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State v. Superior Court of Lake County

Citation: 11 ELR 20476
No. No. S.F. 23981, 625 P.2d 239/29 Cal. 3d 210, (Cal., 03/20/1981)

The court rules that, under § 830 of the California Civil Code, private owners of land which is riparian to navigable, nontidal waters have title to all property above the low water mark, but that the lands remain subject to a public trust to preserve them in their natural state. Private parties claimed, under grants issued by the state between 1850 and 1906, title to property on Clear Lake to the low water mark. The court first rules that upon admission to the Union, California acquired sovereign ownership in the lands shoreward of nontidal, navigable waters between the low and high water marks. Although California rejected the English common law rule that ownership of nontidal navigable waters was granted directly to private parties, § 830 of the Civil Code, enacted in 1872, has been interpreted, at least as of 1970, to constitute a grant to private persons of land to the low water mark. In addition, even though the Attorney General has asserted since 1970 that the state owns riparian lands from the center line to the high water mark, the state legislature has implicitly accepted the low water mark of Clerk Lake as the boundary. The court finds, however, thatt while the private parties rightfully own the disputed tract between the high and low water marks, that title is subject to a public trust which applis to lands underlying waters which are navigable in fact. The scope of the trust includes the right to hunt, swim, and to preserve the lands in their natural state; it isnot limited merely to use of the water. Further, there is no taking of private property because the owner may still use the property in any manner not incompatible with the trust.

A dissent would limit the public trust to tidelands and submerged lands based on California's history of shore-zone development.

Counsel for Petitioners
Richard Frank, Deputy Attorney General
555 Capitol Mall, Suite 350, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 445-9555

Counsel for Real Party in Interest Richard R. Lyon
Edgar B. Washburn
Washburn, Kemp & Wagenseil
Suite 2407, One Embarcadero Center, San Francisco CA 94111
(415) 981-2121

Counsel for Respondent Lake County
Richard Ben Halter, Cty. Counsel
255 N. Forbes St., Lakeport CA 95453
(707) 263-2321

Joined by Bird, Tobriner, and Newman, JJ.