By Matthew Hinks
The California Coastal Commission may not unilaterally impose a right of public access over private property. So says the California Court of Appeal in Bay Island Club v. California Coastal Commission.
Bay Island Club (the "Club") is comprised of 24 shareholders and owners of single-family residences on Bay Island, a private island located in Newport Bay in the City of Newport Beach. It has held title to the island since the early 1900s. Balboa Peninsula lies adjacent to the island and was conveyed to the East Newport Town Company ("East Newport") by the State of California in 1904. In 1927, East Newport granted to the Club an easement "to construct, maintain, repair and replace a bridge for pedestrian and/or automobile travel". Subsequently, East Newport deeded fee title, subject to the Club's easement, to certain real property, including the channel under the easement to the City.
The bridge built over the easement that existed at the time of the decision was constructed in 1958. In 2006, the Club applied to the California Coastal Commission for a permit to replace it with a 10-foot wide and 130-foot long bridge. Sometime prior to filing the application, the Club had erected a gate on the mainland side of the bridge preventing use of the bridge by the public. There was conflicting evidence in the record over when the gate was built, including evidence from members of the public that the gate was constructed after 1976, which, if true, meant that the gate was constructed in violation of the Coastal Act (passed in 1976), because it was built without a Coastal permit.