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Feduniak v. California Coastal Comm'n

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20072
Nos. No. H028931, (Cal. App. 6th Dist., 03/27/2007)

A California appellate court held that the doctrine of equitable estoppel does not bar the California Coastal Commission from ordering homeowners to remove a private three-hole golf course from around their house and to restore the area to its native sand dune vegetation. The property was burdened by an open-space easement and certain permit requirements, but when the prior homeowners sold the property to the current owners, they failed to disclose the fact that the golf course violated those restrictions. The commission then learned of the violations and ordered cease-and-desist and restoration orders against the current owners. A lower court estopped the orders, reasoning that the commission should have known of the violations because the golf course has been easily visible for 18 years. But it was unreasonable for the lower court to conclude that the mere sight of the golf course should have put the commission on notice of a violation or triggered a duty to investigate. Rather, the commission did not become aware of the easement and permit violations until after the property was purchased by its present owners. Nor does the evidence show that the commission knowingly, but passively, assented to the golf course even though it violated easement and permit restrictions. And any injustice suffered by the homeowners in having to comply with the commission's orders is outweighed by the injustices to the public were the orders estopped. The court, therefore, reversed the lower court's estoppel of the orders.