Angel Law Wins Court Decision Invalidating City of Manhattan Beach Ordinances Banning Overnight Visitor Access to the Coastal Zone

Angel Law has won a decisive court ruling in a lawsuit it litigated against the City of Manhattan Beach, targeting a sweeping ban on short-term rentals (STRs).

STRs are rentals for less than 30 days. The Manhattan Beach city council passed a first ordinance banning STRs in June 2015. In April of last year, it adopted a second ordinance confirming the 2015 action and expanding it by prohibiting the offering and advertising of STRs, imposing reporting obligations on online booking platforms, and declaring violations of the STR prohibitions a misdemeanor. The ban covers all single- and multi-family residential dwellings, dwelling units, and even rooms, in every residential district of the Manhattan Beach coastal zone.

STR bans exclude visitors from overnight access to the coast and, as such, violate the California Coastal Act of 1976, which requires local governments to provide “maximum access … and recreational opportunities” for all the people. Under the Coastal Act and the city’s local coastal program (LCP), the city may not enforce its STR ordinances without their review and approval by the Coastal Commission as an amendment to the LCP. Approved by the Coastal Commission in 1994, the Manhattan Beach LCP does not restrict STRs.

Anticipating rejection of its STR ordinances by the Coastal Commission, in mid-2019, the city council denied our request to submit them to the Coastal Commission. At the same time, it ordered a massive crackdown on STRs, shutting down hundreds of them.

Faced with the city’s refusal to end its unlawful conduct, we filed suit seeking a court order directing the city to submit its STR prohibitions for the coastal zone to the Coastal Commission so the commission may modify them as may be necessary to comply with the Coastal Act’s overnight coastal access requirements, and to enjoin the city from enforcing the prohibitions pending approval of lawful STR regulations by the Coastal Commission. In addition, we argued that the city’s enforcement of those prohibitions amounts to “development” within the meaning of the Coastal Act, subject to the act’s coastal development permit (CDP) requirement. A “change in the density or intensity of use of land” in the coastal zone falls within the Coastal Act’s definition of “development.” So does a change “in the intensity of use of water, or of access thereto.”

The Superior Court (Judge James C. Chalfant, Judge Presiding) found merit to both of our claims and granted the judicial relief we requested. Recognizing that “[p]ublic access to the coast is one of the central goals of the Coastal Act,” the court agreed that the restriction of STRs in the coastal zone is a public access issue within the Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction. The court noted that “[t]he availability of STRs in coastal zones not only increases the supply of overnight lodging, but it provides an opportunity for families to stay in a house with a kitchen and other amenities, making the stay more desirable and economical.” The court thus ruled:

“The City may not avoid its duty to seek [Coastal] Commission approval of its STR ban in the coastal zone as an LCP amendment, and must refrain from enforcing these prohibitions in the coastal zone without the [Coastal] Commission’s approval. Ordinances 15-0010 and 19-0007 have no legal effect and are unenforceable in the City’s coastal zone without being certified by the Commission as an LCP amendment.”

The court also ruled that “the City’s action in approving the STR ban and enforcement mechanisms in Ordinance 19-0007 without a legally valid CDP violates the Coastal Act’s CDP requirement and [the act’s] coastal access policies.” Despite the large-scale changes in overnight coastal access caused by the city’s aggressive enforcement of its STR ban, the city denied it needed a CDP. The court was having none of it. “The City’s 2019 action, including its successful enforcement action, constitutes ‘development’ as defined in [the Coastal Act].”