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Corona del Mar beachside barbecue and palapa must go, court rules [Updated]

March 4, 2010 |  6:15 pm

A Corona del Mar couple must remove their barbecue, storage shed and thatched-roof palapa from a sandy area adjacent to a public beach, three Orange County appeals court judges have ruled, upholding the state Coastal Commission’s insistence that it was an illegal development.

The opinion, released Wednesday, was a defeat to retirees George and Sharlee McNamee’s decade-long crusade against the state agency.

The couple claimed that their property rights were under assault when the state in 2004 demanded that they tear out the amenities from the beach portion of their property, down a long staircase from their bluff-top home and next to Corona del Mar State Beach. It included an outdoor shower, picnic tables, benches and a flower garden.

The state agency has maintained that the 1976 Coastal Act gives it the power to regulate the use of shore-front property, public or private, to protect the environment and ensure public access.

“It is visually obvious that the Commission’s decision was reasonable,” Judge David G. Sills wrote in a seven-page opinion, which includes a file photograph of the improvements (pictured above), calling them “sheer bulky clutter” with “plain unsightliness.”

The ruling cited provisions of the Coastal Act that allows the state to consider the scenic and visual qualities of the coast, including ocean views, when approving developments, saying there was “substantial evidence of the ‘visual impact’ of the McNamees’ shed (and storage lockers and barbecue).”

Paul Beard, an attorney for the property rights group Pacific Legal Foundation that represents the McNamees, vowed Thursday to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

“The decision effectively grants the Coastal Commission unprecedented discretion to control how an individual uses and enjoys his private property on an utterly subjective basis: aesthetics,” he said.

Coastal Commission attorney Jamee Patterson said the lengthy ordeal over what is essentially a picnic site had been overblown; the unpublished opinion has no bearing on other cases.

“The commission didn't authorize any development on the sandy beach portion of their property," Patterson said. "But it appeared they can continue to use their property for picnics and barbecues. They just need to take their things back up the stairs.”

[For the record, 3:21 p.m. March 6: A previous version of this post identified Judge David G. Sills as P.J. Sills. P.J. is an abbreviation for presiding justice.]

--Tony Barboza

Photo: California Coastal Commission