California Butchers Ripeness Doctrine, Allows Uncompensated Public Takings
In this case, there are two critical dates: May 1980, when the then owner of the property executed an “offer to dedicate” a right of way for public access to the beach across her property, and March 2000, when the County of Santa Barbara accepted that offer. Under California law, the mere offer to dedicate did not convey any property interest, and until the County accepted the offer the owner retained the sole “the right to exclude others.” Kaiser Aetna v. United States, 444 U.S. 164, 176 (1979). As a matter of federal law, a takings claim is not ripe until a final government decision is made. The government entity charged with accepting the offer to dedicate did not reach a “final decision” to accept the offer with respect to this property until March 2000. The judgment of the California courts, that the time to challenge the “taking” began to run in 1980 is clearly contrary to this Court’s precedents, and works to deprive Petitioner of fundamental federal constitutional rights.
Beginning in the 1970s, the California Coastal Commission initiated a policy of exacting public access easements from beachfront property owners as a condition of approving building permits for all new development within the coastal zone. The Commission typically required owners of beachfront property to make an “offer to dedicate,” (“OTD” or “offer”) which would ripen into title to the easement only if a public agency accepted the offer. In 1987 this Court held that the exaction of such public access easements as a condition of granting substantially unrelated building permits was “an out-and-out plan of extortion,” and unconstitutional. Nollan v. California Coastal Comm’n, 483 U.S. 825, 837 (1987).
In 1980 the Coastal Commission granted a development permit for a guest house to the then owner of the property in controversy, with a special condition that required the owner to make an “offer to dedicate.” When Stanford Trust purchased the property in 1995, the offer to dedicate had not been accepted but the Commission had 6 years left to accept it and create a permanent easement. In 1998 the Santa Barbra County held hearings on accepting the offer. By March 2000, Standford Trust no longer occupied the property because their right to exclude had been extinguished by the public’s constant ingress and egress to the beachfront. Without the right to exclude others, the owner no longer enjoys any right to their property. California courts rejected this contention, instead ruling that the claim came in the wrong forum and too late.
Limited Government, Property Rights
Cole v. Santa Barbara, (Supreme Court) (petition stage)
Read the Amicus Brief:
1. When does a taking occur?
2. Is that question answered by federal law or by state imposed limitations?
ALF’s Amicus Brief:
ALF argues that California Courts fundamentally misunderstand this Court’s jurisprudence on the ripeness of takings. Even Justice Ginsburg with her expansive view on the takings power argued in her dissent that:
A regulatory takings claim is not ripe for adjudication, this Court has held, until the agency administering the regulations at issue, proceeding in good faith, “has arrived at a final, definitive position regarding how it will apply [those regulations] to the particular land in question.” Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City.,
533 U.S. 606 at 645-646.
Acceptance by a government entity of the constitutionally dubious offer to dedicate is the final decision which marks the date that a claim achieves ripeness. To hold otherwise would be akin to allowing a claim for breach of contract before a contract offer has been accepted.
The California Courts in error merged two legally distinct government actions into one. First the act of requiring property owners to make offers of dedications before allowing them to build on their lands, is itself a taking of the right to improve property. The Second action is the acceptance of this coerced offer, at which time a second harm is done by dissolving a right previously enjoyed by the property owner. These actions create two distinct legal claims, which are not only separate in time, and in harm done to the distinct property rights, but are not necessarily connected. The Second action is entirely at the discretion of a government body, which can choose not to accept the offer, therefore the property owner making the offer cannot foresee at that time what damages, if any will ensue in the future.
This is why Justice Stevens opined that the doctrine of ripeness required “[p]recise specification of the moment a taking occurred and of the nature of the property interest taken is necessary in order to determine an appropriately compensatory remedy.” Without knowing what harm has or will occur, a plaintiff cannot ask the court, and the court cannot discern with certainty, what will make the plaintiff whole again.
ALF asks this Court to grant certiorari to prevent the government of California from violating the Constitution by taking property without just compensation.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari on October 21, 2002.
Date Originally Posted: August 5, 2002