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Surfrider Takes Legal Action to Protect Public Beaches

New report on seawalls and sea level rise from Stanford Law School supports foundation’s arguments in landmark coastal lawsuit

The Surfrider Foundation took another step today in its legal stand to protect California’s beaches by submitting its argument in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission in support of the continued protection of public access and recreation along the California coast. This case over the Lynch seawall in Encinitas has the potential to set a precedent for future seawall development throughout San Diego County and California.

The Lynch seawall lies at the center of a dispute between the California Coastal Commission and seawall owners in Encinitas. The Supreme Court’s decision may determine the Coastal Commission’s authority to periodically review seawalls and sets a precedent for future seawall construction. Surfrider San Diego has been monitoring the case for several years to ensure the final decision does not hold any negative implications for San Diego’s coastline, public beach access or recreation opportunities.

“The arguments we submitted today are a substantial effort to make certain that seawalls pose no threat to public beach access or recreation opportunities as conditions change along our coastline due to sea level rise,” said Staley Prom, the Surfrider Foundation’s legal associate. “We are confident the Court will uphold the long-standing California tradition of preserving affordable public access to the coast and the many recreational opportunities it holds.”

California’s coastal population continues to grow and concerns over sea level rise are steadily increasing. A recent study from Stanford Law School’s Environment and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program provides clear examples of seawalls being erected without proper oversight and causing damage to sandy beaches, local ecosystems and neighboring properties. The Court’s decision will have particular importance in San Diego, where beaches will continue to be a key economic driver and important landmark. The final decision will likely influence how the region addresses sea level rise and the role seawalls will play in those plans.

“The issues covered by this case are crucial to ensuring the sustainability of our beaches here in San Diego,” said Julia Chunn-Heer, the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego County policy manager. “We will continue to educate and engage coastal communities about the impacts of seawall development and sea level rise to ensure that our public beaches continue to be the treasure they are today.”

The legal brief submitted today outlines Surfrider’s key concerns over possible changes to the way in which seawalls are planned, reviewed and managed. The foundation supports the Coastal Commission’s ability to regulate seawall construction and protect public resources, and is concerned that diminishing the Coastal Commission’s oversight could lead to limited beach access and recreational opportunities.

Stanford Law School’s 2015 California Coastal Armoring Report: Managing Coastal Armoring and Climate Change Adaptation in the 21st Century reinforces Surfrider’s concerns and the need for more discussion about how the coastline is developed. The study states that seawalls have already “diminished California’s beaches and habitat, irreversibly altered bluffs, caused increased erosion to neighboring properties and marred the natural beauty of the coast.” The study also reconfirmed the long held scientific finding that when seawalls are placed on an eroding or retreating beach, like many of San Diego’s beaches, especially those in north county, seawalls will “cause that beach to narrow and eventually disappear.”

The California Supreme Court is expected to make a decision later this year.