Permit Needed for LA’s Night Beach Curfew

By Sue Pascoe

The City of Los Angeles was served with a lawsuit in December 2015, challenging its right to impose a nightly curfew on beaches, including Will Rogers Beach in Pacific Palisades.

The lawsuit, brought by Jataun Valentine and Francesca de la Rosa, alleged that the city had refused to obtain a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission for the 1988 ordinance that continues to close 11 miles of coastline from midnight to 5 a.m.

The plaintiffs argued that the curfew law—LAMC 63.44(B)(14)(b)—was a development under California Public Resources Code Section 30106 (a), and because of the Coastal Act it meant the city needed to obtain a coastal development permit.

The two Venice residents disagreed with the city’s reasoning that the curfew was necessary for safety reasons, rather they felt that an individual has a right to unobstructed access to oceans and waterways and that right has been recognized since the ancient laws of the Romans.

The lawsuit contained numerous exhibits, letters, between the Coastal Commission and the city, with the commission telling the city it needed a coastal permit and the city disagreeing.

Beaches located within Los Angeles are closed from midnight to 5 a.m. daily. Photo: Lesly Hall Photography

Coastal Commission District Enforcement Analyst Andrew Willis in an August 2010 letter stated, “. . . the beach curfew ordinance identified above qualifies as development under the Coastal Act and therefore requires a coastal development permit.”

The city responded on Sept. 1 that it did not agree with that assessment.

Ten days later, the commission sent a return letter stating it had received public complaints about the Los Angeles beach closures and attached examples of beach curfews, beach parking lot hours and beach access hours in cities such as San Diego, Coronado, Carlsbad, Oceanside, San Clemente and Laguna Beach that it has approved.

The letter stated that “a review of beach curfew ordinances is on a case-by-case basis, and consequently, the unique circumstances of each case will inform Staff ’s review of a proposed access restriction.”

On Oct. 1, the city replied: “Please be advised that LAMC section 63.44(B)(14)(b) is a duly-adopted ordinance and law. As such, the ordinance is not in need of a coastal development permit or any other written permission of the California Coastal Commission. The City of Los Angeles will therefore not be applying for a coastal development permit.”

The commission responded with a Nov. 8 letter: “Again, our September 17, 2010 letter demonstrates the Commission’s historical focus on access restrictions such as beach curfew ordinances. Protection of public access in the Coastal Zone is among the highest priority policies of the Coastal Act; the Commission and local governments are mandated under Section 30210 of the Coastal Act to ensure that ‘. . . maximum access . . . and recreational opportunities shall be provided for all people consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights, rights of private property owners, and natural resource areas from overuse.’”

In February 2011, the Coastal Commission wrote the city that it was preparing to take the appropriate steps and as far as it was concerned, “the Beach Curfew is currently of no legal force or effect.”

Several more letters were exchanged, but in April 2014, the Coastal Commission’s letter to the city pointed out key elements consistent with the Coastal Act:

  • Presentation of credible evidence demonstrating the existence of a public safety problem warranting the imposition of a beach curfew.
  • Evaluation of alternatives to a sweeping curfew and exclusion from the curfew of beach areas that could be excluded without compromising public safety. Efforts should be made to focus on the specific area or areas where problems exist and to craft any curfew ordinance accordingly.
  • Since there are state waters subject to the California Constitution, there should be an exemption from the curfew of the wet sand area along the ocean’s edge, and of transiting beaches to reach wet sand, for fishing, walking, surfing, diving and access to state waters. etc.
  • Inclusion of a “sunset” clause or the guarantee of periodic review, including public hearings, on the need to continue the curfew in effect.
  • Appropriate signage posted in conspic- uous locations giving notice of the closing times and exceptions to the closure.

The lawsuit bought by plaintiffs in 2015 alleged the city had refused to obtain a coastal development permit, and in June 2017, the Los Angeles Superior Court agreed.

Two months later, the Court of Appeal dismissed a number of the city’s defenses and arguments that the plaintiffs should not have been allowed to bring the case, because of the length of time since the ordinance was passed in 1988. The court ruled that because of the city’s continued enforcement of the ordinance, it was an ongoing violation of the Coastal Act.

Co-plaintiff Francesca de la Rosa said, “We brought this lawsuit only after activists tried for years to convince the city that it could not simply close its beaches as a way to address the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles. If it feels a curfew is necessary, it should have to prove it.”

The case was set to go to trial in Los Angeles Superior Court on Nov. 6, but on Sept. 28 the litigation was stayed until Dec. 1 under Judge Susan Bryant-Deacon.

The ruling noted that on June 30, the L.A. City Council passed a motion to obtain the necessary coastal development permits for local agencies and ultimately from the Coastal Commission.

Under the stay, the city was instructed that enforcement of the curfew will be limited to: no individual shall be cited or arrested for violating that code unless that individual is 1.) given a verbal warning by a L.A. City Peace Officer; 2.) is given a sufficient and reasonable time to comply with the warning, and 3.) fails or refuses to comply with the warning.

“The City’s decision to seek a Coastal Development Permit is the right one, not only for the plaintiffs and the City, but for every resident of the City and the state,” said Jim Burgess of Sheppard Mullin, who is counsel to both plaintiffs, on Sept. 28. “It would have been the right decision in 1988 when it enacted the ordinance, in 2009 when the Coastal Commission first informed the City that one was necessary. And although it took years of litigation and vigorous opposition by the City to get to this point, it is the right decision today.”

The city filed its local CDP with the city engineer’s office on Sept. 8 and the first hearing in the coastal development permit process was held Oct. 5 in Westchester.

The Pacific Palisades Community Council and the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association both sent letters to the city of L.A. Dept. Of Public Works supporting the curfew.

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