One of the most painful conflicts in American life occurs when the right of private property clashes with the public interest. This conflict has been particularly acute and widespread in California since 1972, when the voters approved a sweeping coastal-protection law, which was revised and renewed by the Legislature four years later.
An especially nettlesome dispute regarding the law, and the authority of the California Coastal Commission, has now been resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of the people. The outcome is understandably distressing to the affected homeowners in an exclusive Ventura County beachfront community, but it is the proper one. All Californians, and others who visit our coast, will benefit.
For some time it has been the policy of the Coastal Commission that when private landowners along the coast alter their property they must then permit public access to the beachfront that previously was considered private. In the case of the Whalers' Village Club in Ventura County the alterations involved the construction of sea walls and other barriers to protect the homes from erosion caused by storm-driven surf in 1980. This was a sort of no-win situation for homeowners: Build a wall or lose their homes.
Additionally, the commission contends that the erection of such barriers creates a backwash effect resulting in erosion of adjacent public beaches, thus depriving the public of the right of access to state tidelands.