Five years ago, Tom and Pat Randa told the California Coastal Commission "to take a flying leap," as Tom Randa puts it.
In 1980, the couple defied the commission by grading its remote mountain property in Agoura without seeking a coastal development permit. The state received a court order to halt the grading and filed suit against the Randas for alleged violation of the state Coastal Act.
Although the case still languishes in court, the Coastal Commission earlier this month granted the Randas a "minor boundary adjustment" that removes their five-acre parcel from the coastal zone. The boundary change, which puts development of the property beyond commission scrutiny, was approved by a 6-4 vote, despite warnings from the commission staff and environmentalists that the move could set a troublesome precedent.
The commission has discretion to exclude property that lies partially beyond the coastal zone, which the Randas contended is the case with their lot.
Made Correct Decision
"I'm glad they did what was right," Tom Randa, a building contractor and part-time actor, said of the decision. "I thought that it should have been a unanimous vote in my favor."
Although some commissioners since have said they were led to believe the change would not trigger development of the land, the Randas have obtained a building permit from Los Angeles County and have broken ground on a home. The couple had refused to submit building plans to the commission, contending that the state panel has no legal jurisdiction on the property.
Randa said he has been battling government agencies for years to build the home. "This is a life dream for me," he said.
Opponents of the boundary change, including environmental groups and the National Park Service, had argued that the commission should not surrender to the county the commission's power to set conditions that would minimize erosion and protect the beauty of the tract, which borders state and federal parklands.
'Enormously Better Job'
"The Coastal Commission has done an enormously better job of planning in these remote brush-covered areas" than has Los Angeles County, said David Brown, a Calabasas environmentalist.
Brown also said it was inappropriate for the commission to exempt Randa's property from the coastal zone with the alleged grading violation "still sitting there unresolved in the courts. . . ."
"Essentially here's a guy who broke the speed limit, and then he went to the judge and asked him to change the speed limit," Brown said.
The boundary adjustment also was criticized by officials of the National Park Service, which is putting together the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "Other developers could use similar arguments to get their property excluded from the coastal zone," said Dan Kuehn, superintendent of the recreation area.
Some commissioners said they feel sympathy for Randa, who made an impassioned speech about his suffering at the hands of government agencies during hearings on the issue.
"I bought this piece (of) property hoping that, since I couldn't afford a home, I would be able to build one for my family," Randa said. "The Indians got a reservation that they got pushed into. I got the street."
Commission Chairman Michael Wornum, who voted for the request, said he does not "feel bound in any way" to approve future boundary-change requests just because the Randa request was granted.
Wornum also described the controversy as "somewhat of a storm in a teacup," because a single home is all that would be allowed on the parcel under the regulations of either the Coastal Commission or Los Angeles County.
Wornum expressed surprise at learning that the Randas immediately obtained a county building permit and began work on their home.
Thought Sale Was Planned
He and two other commissioners said in interviews that they believed, based on testimony by the Randas, that the couple sought the boundary change to speed the sale of the land to the National Park Service or state Department of Parks and Recreation. Both agencies have listed the tract for eventual acquisition. It is unclear how construction of a home on the land would affect their plans.
However, the hearing transcript shows that Tom Randa, in an ambiguous statement of his intentions, did not promise to refrain from building on the land. Also, he did not promise to sell it--which he now says he is unwilling to do.
"I'm not going to get to live on my property," Randa told the panel. "They have already explained this to me. . . .
"All you are doing is making the Park Service either buy me, or let me go on with my life."
On Jan. 9--two days after the commission vote in San Francisco--Tom Randa walked into Los Angeles County offices with a tape of the meeting and left with a building permit. No environmental conditions were attached to the permit, according to Roslyn Robson, public affairs officer with the county Department of Public Works.