Coastal Commission Fines Laguna Beach Couple $1 Million, Orders Seawall Removal

Looking in from the beach at 11 Lagunita Dr., Laguna Beach. (Courtesy of Trulia)

The California Coastal Commission recently fined a Laguna Beach couple $1 million for rebuilding their ocean-front home without a permit.

Jeff and Tracy Katz were also ordered to remove a seawall that damaged the public Victoria Beach, according to a Coastal Commission media release.

Weichert Realtors of Newport Beach previously had the three-bedroom, 4.5-bath Katz home at 11 Lagunita Drive listed at $13.5 million. The unauthorized work by the couple boosted their house’s value by $11 million to $25 million, according to the commission.

Property along the California coastline requires a permit from the Coastal Commission before rebuilding, doing major renovations or any work that encroaches on a public beach. Previous owners had legally secured permits for temporary seawalls while allowed renovations were done over the years, but those were not still open for the latest projects, according to the commission.

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

The home in 2012 (courtesy

His agency notes that during a year of construction, warning notices were repeatedly sent to the Katzes, who referred to their project as “minor repair and maintenance.” Through their attorney, the Katzes still maintained the project was minor and permitted by the City of Laguna Beach.

Without informing the Coastal Commission, the 62-year-old home was demolished down to the studs and replaced with a re-engineered structure, according to the state watchdog.

The inclusion of an 11-foot-tall, 80-foot-long seawall is particularly problematic because it prevents sand from reaching the beach, which eventually causes beaches to shrink until they disappear, according to the commission, which adds a short-term solution like a seawall can cause long-term damage in an era of sea level rise that already endangers sandy public beaches.

Since construction began, the seawall has trapped as much as 18 large dump trucks of sand behind it, leaving very little dry sand on the beach at certain times of the year, the commission charges.

“This case is important as it is,” says Commissioner Donne Brownsey in the release, “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.”

In addition to paying the $1 million fine, the commission directed the couple and their representatives to come up with a plan to remove the seawall. As Commissioner Roberto Uranga put it, “In the words of Ronald Reagan, bring down this wall.”

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