Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Commission crossing the line

The California Coastal Commission was established to safeguard the state’s precious coastal resources.

But also precious are the constitutional rights of our residents, including property owners, and the structure of government designed to protect those rights (in particular, the tradition that local decision-making should be the norm in land-use and community planning).

Unfortunately, the Coastal Commission doesn’t always show as much concern for those important legacies and principles.

Largely shielded from accountability to voters, the Coastal Commission has been notorious for trying to push beyond the legal limits to its power, and puncturing the aspirations of homeowners and business people.

The latest target is entrepreneur Franco DeCicco, who owns a tract of land in Cayucos. Last week, he launched a lawsuit against the commission and its claim that it can second-guess the county’s approval of his motel project at Ocean Boulevard and Old Creek Road.

His case carries statewide implications because it puts the Coastal Commission’s pattern of overreach in stark relief and has a powerful human-interest element. An Italian immigrant who arrived in America with less than $100, DeCicco worked for years in the auto repair business, finally saving enough to buy a piece of property in San Luis Obispo County. His dream: to build an inn that his family would run, offering “old world” hospitality, along with four adjacent townhomes for his children.

After a decade of working with the county and developing a carefully structured project, he got an OK from a majority of the supervisors last year. But then the Coastal Commission stepped in, spurred on by an anti-growth group. This past Monday, some of the growth opponents took up the commission’s invitation to appeal the issue to the agency, so DeCicco now faces a new season of bureaucratic hazing.

“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” he said.

Some might object on purely economic grounds to this drive to derail the DeCicco project. After all, we’re in a bruising recession — the state’s unemployment tops 12 percent — so Californians arguably don’t have the luxury of playing rope-a-dope with business people in a way one might expect in Castro’s Cuba (but, ironically, probably not in Communist China).

The Coastal Commission is overstepping its bounds, and it must be forced to obey the state statute that defines what it can and can’t do.

The lawsuit’s basis is technical but can be summarized by saying that the commission can’t intrude in the planning process when the county has a commission-approved “local coastal plan” (as San Luis Obispo County does) and when the project is consistent with local zoning rules, as DeCicco’s is.

Another way of putting it: The commission has one legal duty in the DeCicco matter — to butt out.

Paul J. Beard, a principal attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org), represents Franco DeCicco and his wife, Sonia, in their challenge to the California Coastal Commission.