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Couple loses beach battle

California Supreme Court won't review lower court's decision about private picnic area by Corona del Mar State Beach.

May 25, 2010|By Sarah Peters

For nearly 10 years, George and Sharlee McNamee have waged a legal battle against the state on their very own turf.

Now, it appears that the Corona del Mar couple has finally lost the case against the California Coastal Commission, which pitted questions about rights of private property owners versus the public's right to beach access.

Last week, the California Supreme Court turned down the McNamees' petition to review a lower court's decision in the drawn-out dispute over a picnic area owned by them next to Corona del Mar State Beach.

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The 4th District Court of Appeal had ruled in favor of the Coastal Commission. In 2004, the commission ordered the McNamees to dismantle their beachfront picnic area and clear their strip of land there of a thatched palapa, furniture and other amenities.

Since 2001, the McNamees have challenged the California Coastal Commission for what they viewed as an encroachment of their private property rights on land that they have owned since 1978, Sharlee McNamee said.

"If you have power over other people's property, you have power over their very existence," McNamee said Monday. "It would not have been morally correct to allow that kind of oppression."

The 30-by-35-foot patch of private beach is adjacent to the state beach, a popular half-mile protected by the California Coastal Act. The legislation has key provisions that protect public access to the beach, preservation and fair use of natural resources.

The Coastal Commission ordered the McNamees to remove items from the property, including a barbecue, restroom and picnic bench, on the grounds that the McNamees had not obtained the proper permit and that the picnic area discouraged the public from using the nearby public beach, said Andrew Willis, South Coast district enforcement analyst for the commission.

"The purpose of the permitting process is to protect coastal resources as stated under the Coastal Act," Willis said.

While the McNamees applied for a permit in 2004, it was denied by the commission on "aesthetic grounds," said John Beard, principal attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the McNamees in court.

The McNamees were denied a permit because their property's visual appearance did not blend in with the scenery of the rest of the Corona del Mar beach, which was claimed to be offsetting to beach users, Beard said.

"The idea that one's own use of one's property can be diminished because it creates a psychological impact creates a dangerous precedent for future cases," Beard said.

The McNamees will now have to hire landscaping and architectural experts to remove the picnic and garden area, which has served as a site for birthday parties, community events and weddings throughout its 35-year history.

"We've gone through all the stages of loss, including anger and mourning over losing the potential of what we had planned for our grandchildren," McNamee said.

Although the couple will adhere to the court's ruling, they will continue looking into ways to protect and preserve their property for the future, McNamee said.

"There has been a huge percentage of people who do understand and are very supportive," McNamee said. "It's given us more courage, and we don't feel so much like the Lone Ranger in this issue."

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