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Whose Coast Is It Anyway? Climate Change, Shoreline Armoring, and the Public’s Right to Access the California Coast

November 2016

Citation: ELR 10971

Author: Lee A. Kaplan

The public trust doctrine provides that a state holds its tidelands, submerged lands, and navigable waters in trust for the benefit of the general public. California has codified the principles of this doctrine through various statutes, including the California Coastal Act of 1976. However, as climate change drives increased sea-level rise and erosion along California’s coast, landowners have sought to protect their property with hard armoring structures that impede coastal access and cause the sea to swallow previously accessible public beaches. This raises the issue of who should bear the burden of the inevitable property losses resulting from sea-level rise: private landowners, or the general public. This Article explores the legal issues surrounding coastal armoring in California, including the pending case of Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, which could have broad implications for coastal armoring and access rights in California.

Lee A. Kaplan received his J.D. from UCLA School of Law in May 2016. He is a law clerk at Richards, Watson & Gershon in Los Angeles.

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