LAGUNA BEACH (CNS) – The California Coastal Commission announced today it has fined a Laguna Beach couple $1 million for the unpermitted rebuilding of an ocean-front home and ordered the prompt removal of an adjacent sea wall that has damaged a public beach.

“The property owners purposefully sought to avoid Coastal Commission review, and chose to disregard the agency’s repeated advice to comply with the law,” said Executive Director Jack Ainsworth. “They took a calculated risk that backfired. This did not have to turn out this way.”

Seawalls damage beaches by preventing sand from reaching the beach, which eventually causes beaches to shrink until they disappear. In an era of sea level rise, the long-term effect of sea walls is to temporarily protect the property behind them at the permanent expense of public sandy beach space.

“This case is important as it is,” said Commissioner Donne Brownsey, “but it is also important as a harbinger, because of the challenges we know we are facing with sea level rise, and because of what we know now, that seawalls are harmful to beaches.”

The Commission voted unanimously to levy the fine and require the homeowners to remove the 11-foot-tall, 80-foot-long seawall, which is damaging the public beach and public access at Victoria Beach, the Commission said in a statement.

The property owners, Jeff and Tracy Katz, were aware that the Commission had placed specific limitations on the rebuilding the 62-year-old house as a condition of a previous permit. Nevertheless, they demolished the house down to the studs and replaced it with an entirely new and re-engineered structure, which boosted the home’s value by $11 million without notifying the Commission, it said.

The Katzes maintain their project was simply “minor repair and maintenance,” which didn’t require a coastal development permit, and chose not to comply with a series of warnings sent to them by Commission staff during the yearlong construction, according to the statement.

The Commission said the original home at 11 Lagunita Drive was built in 1952 on a bluff overlooking Victoria Beach, a popular public beach that was the birth place of skim boarding. The home’s prior owners received temporary authorization for an emergency seawall in 2005, but never sought permanent approval for the structure as required by law. The property was sold in 2013.

The Commissioners found that the Katzes and their representative willfully and knowingly disregarded the law, and directed them to come up with a plan to remove the sea wall within 60 days, and pay a fine of $1 million.

“In the words or Ronald Reagan, Bring down this wall,” said Commissioner Roberto Uranga.

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