California’s coastal law clearly protects the public’s access to the coastline. Under a prescriptive rights provision, it states that when trails, beaches, bluff tops and parking areas have been used by the public at least five years, the public has a right to continue to use them, even without the consent of the property owner.
Here’s the relevant section from the Coastal Commission website: “A right of access acquired through use is, essentially, an easement over real property that comes into being without the explicit consent of the owner ...”
In this case, the property owner who installed the fencing and signs, Rob McCarthy, has indicated that he isn’t against allowing the public to access his land, where he’s been trying for years to build his dream home. However, he believes a section of trail on his property is steep and dangerous.
McCarthy — who has described his skirmishes with planning officials on his blog, SLO Leaks — has indicated that he’s offered to build a safer trail, as long as the Coastal Commission approves a permit for his home. The Coastal Commission has not agreed, and McCarthy has filed a lawsuit against the agency.
Hikers vehemently disagree that the existing trail on McCarthy’s property is dangerous; they say they’ve been using it safely for many years.
County officials deny saying that the trail was so dangerous that it should be closed to the public. In fact, county Supervisor Adam Hill told The Tribune that he wants the fences to come down and the trail opened to the public.
So do we. We respect private property rights, and we believe that McCarthy should be allowed to build on his land. We also believe he should be protected from all liability for any injuries suffered by hikers.
We believe just as strongly, though, that the public has a right to continue using scenic coastal trails, especially those that have been accessed for decades.