Judge Awards Coastal Commission $3.9 Million, Orders Illegal Development Removed
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A Superior Court judge has awarded the California Coastal Commission over $3.9 million in fines and penalties for Coastal Act violations in the Santa Monica Mountains. Judge Holly Kendig issued a ruling today, finding that property owner Madalon Witter and her manager, Douglas Richardson, had illegally developed a 40-plus-acre site in the Santa Monica Mountains with unpermitted trailers, residential structures, roads, storage sheds, pipelines, tanks and abandoned vehicles. Witter and Richardson had been renting out as many as 25 illegal, sub-standard residential structures since at least 1992, on land zoned for a maximum of four houses. Inadequate power and water systems and sewage discharge created health hazards, according to court documents. Witter and Richardson also subdivided the property without the required permits, intending to sell it off in smaller lots.
“This is one of the worst Coastal Act violations we have seen,” said Peter Douglas, the Coastal Commission’s Executive Director. “We have been trying to resolve this case for nearly 20 years. It is gratifying to get such a strong signal of support from the court.”
In papers filed for the case, the Commission noted that ongoing harm to the environment was caused by the clearing of sensitive habitat, vegetation removal, erosion of graded areas, and contamination of soil and water from various toxic substances, including from the deterioration of numerous non-operational vehicles. The Santa Monica Mountains ecosystem contains some of the rarest habitat types in the world, and its plants and animals are protected under the Coastal Act.
Judge Kendig ordered Witter and Richardson to pay more than $3.9 million in fines and penalties to the state, in recognition of the gravity and duration of their violations as well as the costs associated with years of enforcement proceedings. The property owner was first notified of the violations in 1992, but continued to operate the site illegally, bringing in more trailers, building additional structures and continuing to grade roads and housing pads. The court also issued an injunction, requiring that the site be restored.
Douglas pointed out that Witter and Richardson profited from their illegal rentals for years. Most of the illegal structures also required grading that removed protected plants and harmed the sensitive habitat. None of them had adequate water, power or sewer facilities. Some discharged sewage and gray water directly onto the ground. “This is a great outcome and we are gratified that the Court required both restoration of precious coastal resources and penalties to provide a deterrent to others who might ignore the protections provided by the Coastal Act,” concluded Douglas.
CONTACT: Peter Douglas, Executive Director, CA Coastal Commission: +1-415-407-3208
SOURCE California Coastal Commission