CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Gregorio ALVES, et al., Defendants and Respondents.
On July 24, 1981, the California Coastal Commission (hereafter “appellant” or “Commission”) filed a complaint against respondents as owners, developers and subdividers of a 105-acre parcel (hereafter “the property”) located approximately 1.5 miles inland from the coast in San Mateo County. Two causes of action pursuant to the California Coastal Act of 1976 (hereafter “the Coastal Act” or “Act”) (Pub.Res.Code, § 30000 et seq.) 1 were alleged: 1) unlawful subdivisions of the property; and 2) construction of a house and other improvements on one of the subdivided parcels. The complaint sought civil fines in the amount of $10,000 from each respondent (§ 30820), additional civil fines for intentional violations of the Act (§ 30821), and also requested that an injunction issue 1) restraining further construction or sale of structures on the property; 2) requiring removal of the partially completed house on the property; 3) restraining the sale of any of the lots, and 4) requiring recombination of the subdivided lots into a single 105-acre parcel.
After a court trial, judgment was entered in favor of respondents. The following is a summary of the pertinent evidence adduced at trial
In the spring of 1976, the property was owned by Gregorio, Bernice, Joseph and Elaine Alves (hereafter the “Alves”), who applied to the County of San Mateo for a permit to subdivide the 105-acre lot into four parcels. Before completion of a tentative parcel map of the proposed subdivision in May and June of 1976, respondents Robert Martel and Stelios Hagiperos agreed in writing to purchase two of the four lots to be subdivided. Thereafter, Martel and Hagiperos made payments on the property and shared the costs of the subdivision with the Alves.
On July 13, 1976, the San Mateo County Planning Commission conditionally approved the subdivision. Some of the conditions for final approval were modified by the County Board of Supervisors in November of 1976. The final parcel map was approved by the county on December 31, 1976.
The Coastal Act was signed by the Governor on September 29, 1976, and became effective on January 1, 1977. Among other things, the Act amended the Coastal Initiative of 1972 (Prop. 20) by extending inland the boundary of the coastal zone to arguably include the property, thus requiring approval by the Commission and a permit for any development thereon.
The final parcel map was recorded on January 19, 1977; it divided the property into four parcels. By deeds dated January 27, 1977, Hagiperos and Martel received title to one parcel each. A third parcel was subsequently jointly deeded to Hagiperos and Martel.
In response to an inquiry by Hagiperos, the Commission advised that approval for a well on one of the parcels was required. Subsequently, on May 11, 1977, the Commission notified both Hagiperos and Martel that “because the subdivision has not been approved by the Coastal Commission, its legal status is uncertain․” The Alves received a copy of this letter.
The Alves were prompted by the Commission's letter to apply on May 27, 1977, for a “vested rights” exemption from the Coastal Act's permit requirements. The request for such exemption was denied by the regional Commission on July 18, 1977, and the Alves' appeal of that decision was also denied by the state Commission. No judicial review of the Commission's denial of the vested rights claim was sought. The Commission also denied the Alves' application for approval of the subdivision.
On November 21, 1977, Hagiperos applied to San Mateo County for a building permit to construct a single family dwelling on one of the parcels. Then, in March of 1978, Hagiperos and Martel jointly requested permission to subdivide the same parcel into two lots. The subdivision was approved and a final parcel map creating the two new lots was recorded on October 11, 1979. The building permit was granted on January 7, 1980, and thereafter some construction work on the house was performed before appellant filed its complaint.
In October of 1981, Hagiperos and Martel asked the County of San Mateo for clarification as to the validity of the subdivision of the property under the Coastal Act and the county's certified Local Coastal Plan. Through its planning director, the county issued a certificate exempting the subdivision from the coverage of the Act on the ground that it was completed prior to January 1, 1977. Appellant sought neither an administrative appeal nor judicial review of the county's determination.
The Graves acquired one of the lots created by the 1979 subdivision. Once the Commission filed the present action, however, they rescinded their purchase agreement and retransferred the lot to Hagiperos and Martel.
We turn first to appellant's contention that the trial court erred in ruling that development of the property was completed before January 1, 1977—the effective date of the 1976 Coastal Act by which the property was purportedly included within the coastal zone—and that consequently the Commission had no authority to seek sanctions against respondents. Appellant maintains that the subdivision of the property was not complete until the final parcel map was recorded on January 19, 1977. Respondents, on the other hand, cite the approval of the final subdivision map on December 31, 1976, as the completion date of the subdivision.
Under the Coastal Act, a subdivision unquestionably constitutes a “development” of land for which approval must be obtained from the Commission. (§ 30106.) A critical inquiry before us is the date upon which the subdivision was completed with reference to the effective date of the Coastal Act.
Since the Coastal Act itself does not specify the date on which a subdivision is deemed a completed development, the Commission relies upon a provision of the Subdivision Map Act, Government Code section 66412.7, which states: “A subdivision shall be deemed established ․ on the date of recordation of [the] ․ parcel map․” But we do not find section 66412.7 dispositive here for two reasons: First, it was not enacted until after recordation of the initial four-lot subdivision of the property; second, the provisions of the Subdivision Map Act do not necessarily apply to Coastal Act cases (South Central Coast Regional Com. v. Charles A. Pratt Construction Co. (1982) 128 Cal.App.3d 830, 845, 846, 180 Cal.Rptr. 555).
Final approval of a parcel map constitutes recognition that all conditions for subdivision imposed by the local governing body have been satisfied. (Del Mar v. California Coastal Com. (1984) 152 Cal.App.3d 49, 52, 199 Cal.Rptr. 225.) Once the final parcel map is approved, the subdivision is complete, except for the purely ministerial act of recordation. (Youngblood v. Board of Supervisors (1978) 22 Cal.3d 644, 653–654, 150 Cal.Rptr. 242, 586 P.2d 556.) As of December 31, 1976, no further governmental endorsement of the subdivision was necessary; the subsequent act of recordation served only to provide notice of the development to third parties. (Lawyers Title Co. v. Bradbury (1981) 127 Cal.App.3d 41, 45, 179 Cal.Rptr. 363.) Thus, the subdivision received formal governmental approval on that date, and hence it must be considered a completed “development” before the effective date of the Coastal Act.
We acknowledge that the laudable goals of the Coastal Act are served by broadly construing the effect of its provisions. The Coastal Act is a “major statement of overriding public policy regarding the need to preserve the state's coastal resources․” (South Central Coast Regional Com. v. Charles A. Pratt Construction Co., supra, 128 Cal.App.3d 830, 844, 180 Cal.Rptr. 555.) But we are not persuaded that, by exempting from its terms a subdivision which was finally approved before the effective date of the Act, we will compromise the objectives of the law.
We accordingly find that the subdivision of the 105-acre parcel into four lots predated the Coastal Act by which the property was made part of the coastal zone. It remains to be determined, however, whether the subsequent “development” of the property—including the grant of a building permit, construction work on the property, and a further subdivision creating two lots from one of the original four—all of which unquestionably occurred after the Coastal Act became operative, required prior approval by the Commission.
Respondents insist that they acquired a vested right to divide and otherwise develop the property under section 30608, which provides: “No person who has obtained a vested right in a development prior to the effective date of this division ․ shall be required to secure approval for the development pursuant to this division․” Appellant challenges respondents' right to assert a vested right in the development, citing South Coast Regional Com. v. Gordon (1977) 18 Cal.3d 832, 135 Cal.Rptr. 781, 558 P.2d 867 (hereafter “Gordon ”) as authority for the proposition that failure to seek timely judicial review of the Commission's adverse determination of an application for a vested rights exemption precludes subsequent presentation of such a claim in the courts.
The record shows that the Alves made a claim for a vested rights exemption which was rejected, first by the regional commission on July 10, 1977, and then by the State Coastal Commission on September 7, 1977. Respondents did not file a petition for writ of mandate or take other action seeking judicial review of the Commission's decision.
In Gordon, supra, 18 Cal.3d 832, 135 Cal.Rptr. 781, 558 P.2d 867, the landowner attempted to assert a vested rights exemption for the first time as a defense to an enforcement action by the Commission seeking fines and injunctive relief for violation of the 1972 Coastal Act. He did not apply to the Commission for an exemption. Our high court ruled “that Gordon was required to present his exemption claim to the commission as a condition of raising the claim in the trial court” (id., at p. 834, 135 Cal.Rptr. 781, 558 P.2d 867), explaining: “If developers were allowed to resort to the courts in the first instance, it would not only frustrate one of the underlying purposes of the exhaustion doctrine, i.e., the need for judicial intervention might be obviated by the outcome of the administrative proceedings, but would also reward developers who made no attempt to fulfill the requirements of the act and the regulations, while penalizing those who made a good faith effort to comply.” (Id., at p. 838, 135 Cal.Rptr. 781, 558 P.2d 867.)
Gordon, however, is not dispositive here, if only because, in the present case, the Alves sought an exemption from the Commission, whereas the landowner in Gordon completely ignored his administrative remedies.
We thus turn to the Commission's other authority for its claim of waiver, section 30801, which provides: “Any aggrieved person shall have the right to judicial review of any decision or action of the commission or regional commission by filing a petition for a writ of mandate in accordance with the provisions of Section 1094.5 of the Code of Civil Procedure, within 60 days after such decision or action has become final.” It is now settled that failure to file a timely petition for writ of mandate as directed by this provision renders the Commission's decision immune from attack in a collateral proceeding. (Walter H. Leimert Co. v. California Coastal Com. (1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 222, 233, 196 Cal.Rptr. 739; Briggs v. State of California ex rel. Dept. Parks & Recreation (1979) 98 Cal.App.3d 190, 196, fn. 3, 159 Cal.Rptr. 390; Sierra Club, Inc. v. California Coastal Com. (1979) 95 Cal.App.3d 495, 503, 157 Cal.Rptr. 190.)
Notwithstanding the quoted provision, we conclude that respondents must be given the opportunity to assert a vested-rights claim as a defense to the Commission's action for fines, exemplary damages and injunctive relief. Section 30801 certainly is not designed to deprive an aggrieved party of the right to raise legitimate defenses to an action by the Commission; on the contrary, that statute provides rather than extinguishes the right to challenge a decision by the Commission. Nor, in our view, does the exhaustion of remedies doctrine preclude presentation of a vested-rights defense in the present action by the Commission, although we agree that a collateral proceeding to challenge the Commission's denial of a vested-rights claim instituted by the aggrieved party, such as a declaratory relief action, would be barred under this tenet. (Walter H. Leimert Co. v. California Coastal Com., supra, 149 Cal.App.3d 222, 232, 196 Cal.Rptr. 739.) We conclude that respondents' vested rights defense is cognizable in this action.
The doctrine of vested rights protects property owners from changes in land use regulations which occur before completion of the owner's development project by permitting completion of the development notwithstanding an intervening change in the law that would otherwise preclude it. (Tosh v. California Coastal Com. (1979) 99 Cal.App.3d 388, 392, 160 Cal.Rptr. 170.) Acquisition of a vested right requires a showing that the property owner has performed substantial work or otherwise incurred substantial liability in good faith reliance upon a governmental permit. (Santa Monica Pines, Ltd. v. Rent Control Board (1984) 35 Cal.3d 858, 864, 201 Cal.Rptr. 593, 679 P.2d 27; Tosh, supra, 99 Cal.App.3d at p. 393, 160 Cal.Rptr. 170.) In light of the comprehensive purpose of the Coastal Act to protect and preserve the natural and scenic resources of the coastal zone, our high court has cautioned that “substantial doubts regarding the meaning and effect of the exemption provision [citation] should be resolved against the person seeking exemption.” (Urban Renewal Agency v. California Coast Zone Conservation Com. (1975) 15 Cal.3d 577, 588, 125 Cal.Rptr. 485, 542 P.2d 645; see also South Central Coast Regional Com. v. Charles A. Pratt Construction Co., supra, 128 Cal.App.3d 830, 844, 180 Cal.Rptr. 555.)
Mindful of this wise admonition, we nevertheless conclude that, under the particular and rather unusual circumstances of the present case, respondents acquired a vested right to undertake and complete such development of the property as was contemplated and implicitly sanctioned by the original four-lot subdivision, without the need for further subdivision of the property. We are cognizant of the settled rule that more than mere final map approval must be shown before a vested right will attach to a development; proof of substantial liability in good-faith reliance upon governmental approval is also required. (Santa Monica Pines, Ltd. v. Rent Control Board, supra, 35 Cal.3d 858, 867, 201 Cal.Rptr. 593, 679 P.2d 27; Tosh v. California Coastal Com., supra, 99 Cal.App.3d 388, 393, 160 Cal.Rptr. 170.) We find sufficient evidence of such liability in the present record, as it is apparent that respondents incurred substantial expenditures in preparing the subdivision and in contemplation of governmental approval of additional development of the subdivided property.
We do not feel constrained to a contrary conclusion by Avco Community Developers v. South Coast Regional Com. (1976) 17 Cal.3d 785, 132 Cal.Rptr. 386, 553 P.2d 546, where our high court declared that “neither the existence of a particular zoning nor work undertaken pursuant to governmental approvals preparatory to construction of buildings can form the basis of a vested right to build a structure which does not comply with the laws applicable at the time a building permit is issued.” (Id., at p. 793, 132 Cal.Rptr. 386, 553 P.2d 546.) Our conclusion, that respondents' vested right to develop the property is limited in extent to those acts sanctioned by the original subdivision, is essentially in accord with Avco. If, as the record seems to indicate, respondents were not entitled to construct a house or other improvements on the property by virtue of the original four-lot subdivision—that is, if the county required the second subdivision or governmental approval other than a permit from the Commission for the construction contemplated by respondents—such development would not find sanction in our application of the vested rights rule.2
We find no such vested right to further subdivide Parcel C into two lots. The 1978 subdivision application was completed in 1979, well after the effective date of the Coastal Act. In fact, since respondents knew the Commission had challenged their development of the property before the second subdivision was even sought, the good faith requisite of vested rights is negated. And we decline to hold that a vested right to complete the first subdivision, and attendant development, entitled respondents to effectuate a subsequent, separate and distinct subdivision of the property without compliance with Coastal Act requirements. (Santa Monica Pines, Ltd. v. Rent Control Board, supra, 35 Cal.3d 858, 867, 201 Cal.Rptr. 593, 679 P.2d 27; Billings v. California Coastal Com. (1980) 103 Cal.App.3d 729, 735, 163 Cal.Rptr. 288.) Accordingly, we find that the second subdivision and any development of the property made possible thereby finds no justification under the vested rights rule.
We turn next to appellant's contention that the trial court erred in accepting respondents' statute of limitations defense. The only remaining violation with which we are concerned is the second subdivision of the property, which was completed in October of 1979 (the date of final approval of the map) subdividing one of the four parcels (Parcel C) into two new lots, and any construction on those two lots not authorized under the original subdivision.
Respondents argue that Government Code section 66499.37, part of the Subdivision Map Act (Gov.Code § 66410 et seq.), relates the statute of limitations applicable to actions brought by the Commission under authority of the Coastal Act. It provides: “Any action or proceeding to attack, review, set aside, void or annul the decision of an advisory agency, appeal board or legislative body concerning a subdivision, or of any of the proceedings, acts or determinations taken, done or made prior to such decision, or to determine the reasonableness, legality or validity of any condition attached thereto, shall not be maintained by any person unless such action or proceeding is commenced and service of summons effected within 90 days after the date of such decision. Thereafter all persons are barred from any such action or proceeding or any defense of invalidity or unreasonableness of such decision or of such proceedings, acts or determinations.” (Emphasis added.)
The defect in respondents' position respecting the statute of limitations is that the Commission is not proceeding under the Subdivision Map Act, nor is it challenging “the decision of an advisory agency, appeal board or legislative body concerning a subdivision․” Concededly, the Commission is asserting that respondents' subdivision of the property constitutes an unapproved “development” in contravention of the Act. But the validity of the subdivision under the Subdivision Map Act is not at issue here. The Commission has instead brought suit under authority of the Coastal Act contesting a “development,” and seeking to enjoin violations of the Coastal Act (§ 30803), and to impose civil fines (§§ 30820, 30821) and exemplary damages (§ 30822). Significantly, in its action the Commission contested not only the unapproved subdivisions, but also other “development” of the property.
In our view, then, the present proceeding is not one to attack or review a decision “concerning a subdivision” within the meaning of Government Code section 66499.37. The Coastal Act imposes separate and independent requirements with which the Commission asserts respondents did not comply. Section 30600, subdivision (a) confirms this to be so by stating that a coastal development permit must be obtained “[i]n addition to any other permit required by law from any local government or from any state, regional or local agency․” (See also § 30601; California Coastal Com. v. Quanta Investment Corp. (1980) 113 Cal.App.3d 579, 587–588, 170 Cal.Rptr. 263.)
Also persuasive to us is the fact that while the Coastal Act fails to specifically incorporate section 66499.37 (or any other statute) as its statute of limitations for actions by the Commission to recover fines or obtain injunctive relief, brief periods of limitations are imposed for actions to review decisions of the Commission (§ 30801) or local governments “implementing a certified local coastal program” (§ 30802).3 Accordingly, we find it reasonable to conclude that the Legislature did not intend the 90-day period of limitations contained in section 66499.37 to apply to actions brought by the Commission to collect fines or exemplary damages, or restrain violations of the Coastal Act, particularly in light of an overriding public purpose of protecting the coastal zone which demands liberal application of the Coastal Act.
We are forced to look elsewhere for the statute of limitations applicable to actions by the Commission. Without guidance from the Coastal Act, we must consult the general statutes of limitation. (G.H.I.I. v. MTS, Inc. (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 256, 276, 195 Cal.Rptr. 211.)
The trial court found that the Commission's suit is governed by the one-year period of limitations for actions “upon a statute for a penalty or forfeiture․” (Code Civ.Proc., § 340, subd. (1).) In contrast, Code of Civil Procedure section 338, subdivision (1), provides a three-year period of limitations for actions “upon a liability created by a statute, other than a penalty or forfeiture.” 4 There is no dispute that the duties and violations here at issue exist only by virtue of the Coastal Act, and consequently were created by statute. (Travelers Express Co., Inc. v. Cory (9th Cir.1981) 664 F.2d 763, 766.) It thus remains to be determined whether the Commission's action is one for a “penalty or forfeiture,” so as to make applicable the one-year, rather than the three-year, period of limitations of Code of Civil Procedure section 340, subdivision (1).
It is well settled that any law compelling a defendant to pay damages beyond or without reference to actual loss are penal in nature. (Ashland Oil Co. of Cal. v. Union Oil Co. of Cal. (9th Cir.1977) 567 F.2d 984, 991; County of San Diego v. Milotz (1956) 46 Cal.2d 761, 766, 300 P.2d 1; G.H.I.I. v. MTS, Inc., supra, 147 Cal.App.3d 256, 277–278, 195 Cal.Rptr. 211.) Under this standard, that part of the Commission's suit for exemplary damages (§ 30822) and additional civil fines for intentional and knowing violations (§ 30821) of the Coastal Act must be characterized as actions for penalties. Such actions seek to impose monetary punishment in excess of the harm inflicted upon the public, and therefore are governed by the one-year limitations period. (Rivera v. Anaya (9th Cir.1984) 726 F.2d 564, 567–568; County of San Diego v. Milotz, supra, 46 Cal.2d 761, 766–767, 300 P.2d 1; G.H.I.I. v. MTS, Inc., supra, 147 Cal.App.3d 256, 278–279, 195 Cal.Rptr. 211.)
A more difficult question is presented by appellant's request for civil fines pursuant to section 30820, the basic damages provision of the Coastal Act. We admit some difficulty in discerning the distinction between penal and merely compensatory civil fine statutes. Nevertheless, we are persuaded by two factors unique to the statutes here under consideration to conclude that section 30820 does not extract a “penalty or forfeiture” within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure, section 340, subdivision (1).
First, a dual scheme of fines is fashioned by the Act: the basic damages provision is operative for all violations; additional civil fines and exemplary damages, manifestly punitive, can be imposed only for more egregious transgressions. We do not believe that the Legislature intended for the former sanction to be given the same penal treatment as the latter.
Of greater significance, in our view, is the fact that section 30820 does not specify a fine disproportionate to the wrong committed. Rather, it provides that each violation “shall be subject to a civil fine of not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000),” thus permitting the trial court to exercise its discretion in deciding upon an appropriate fine, with the critical constraint that the fine be commensurate with the gravity of the wrong and the harm to the coastal zone.5 As so construed, section 30820 is a remedial statute. Accordingly, actions brought pursuant to section 30820 are properly subject to the three-year period of limitations of Code of Civil Procedure section 338, subdivision (1). (Rivera v. Anaya, supra, 726 F.2d 564, 569; G.H.I.I. v. MTS, Inc., supra, 147 Cal.App.3d 256, 279, 195 Cal.Rptr. 211.)
We have no difficulty in concluding that the action for injunctive relief is remedial and hence governed by the three-year period of limitations. Such action seeks to remedy the effect of the violations, not to punish respondents for their transgressions. (Rivera v. Anaya, supra, 726 F.2d 564, 569.)
Summarizing, we find a two-pronged statute of limitations appropriate: the actions for civil fines for intentional violations (§ 30821) and exemplary damages (§ 30822) are governed by the one-year statute of limitations (Code Civ.Proc., § 340, subd. (1)). A three-year period of limitations (Code Civ.Proc., § 338, subd. (1)) applies to the Commission's request for civil fines (§ 30820) and injunctive relief (§ 30803).
We must next determine the accrual dates for the respective periods of limitations. Appellant argues that the violations are akin to the tort of nuisance—of a continuous and recurring nature such that “the statute recommences to run for each day that the violation exists.” Respondents insist that the periods of limitations began to run no later than the recording of the final parcel map on January 19, 1977, making appellant's complaint, filed on July 24, 1981, untimely under either the one-year or three-year statutes. Unpersuaded by either side of the argument, we adopt a middle position.
It is of course the general rule that a statute of limitations accrues when the act occurs which gives rise to the claim (Myers v. Eastwood Care Center, Inc. (1982) 31 Cal.3d 628, 634, 183 Cal.Rptr. 386, 645 P.2d 1218), that is, when a party is entitled to bring an action and seek a remedy (April Enterprises, Inc. v. KTTV (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 805, 822, 195 Cal.Rptr. 421; Martin v. Kehl (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d 228, 240, 193 Cal.Rptr. 312). For statutory violations, the accrual date normally arises when an action may be maintained by the administrative agency charged with the enforcement of the law. (Myers, supra, 31 Cal.3d at p. 635, 183 Cal.Rptr. 386, 645 P.2d 1218.)
For the second subdivision here at issue, the period of limitations began to run no later than October of 1979, when that subdivision was approved and the parcel map recorded.6 Hence, the three-year statute of limitations applicable to the actions for civil fines (§ 30820) and injunctive relief (§ 30803) had not run by the time the Commission filed its complaint in July of 1981. But the requests for additional civil fines (§ 30821) and exemplary damages (§ 30822) for that violation are time barred by the lapse of the one-year period of limitations 7 , and were properly refused by the trial court.
The trial court also found that respondents Hagiperos and Martel established a good faith defense to the Commission's action. Appellant argues that no such defense exists, at least as to the actions for civil fines and injunctive relief, and also challenges the finding that respondents entertained a good faith belief that they were not violating the Coastal Act.
A good faith belief in the legality of a “development” is unquestionably a defense to an action for additional civil fines (§ 30821) or exemplary damages (§ 30822), as both sanctions require a showing of an intentional and knowing violation of the Coastal Act. Good faith negates the requisite element of intentionality.
The basic penalty provision of the Coastal Act, however, does not demand a knowing or intentional violation. Section 30820 imposes a civil fine for “any person who violates any provision of this division․” We are bound to conclude that the omission of an intent element from section 30820 by the Legislature was no mere oversight, but was intended to impose a strict civil liability. (Aantex Pest Control Co. v. Structural Pest Control Bd. (1980) 108 Cal.App.3d 696, 702, 166 Cal.Rptr. 763.)
Section 30803 also states that an action for declaratory and injunctive relief lies for “any violation of this division.” In contrast to sections 30821 and 30822, no mention is made of a mens rea requirement or a good faith defense. The statutory penalty scheme is thus distinguishable from that considered in No Oil, Inc. v. Occidental Petroleum (1975) 50 Cal.App.3d 8, 123 Cal.Rptr. 589 and relied upon by respondents, in which the lack of a requirement of a “substantial element of culpability” in any of the penalty provisions of the original coastal initiative convinced the court to accept good faith as a defense.
Recent cases construing environmental legislation have recognized a “public welfare” exception to the mens rea requirement. In People v. Chevron Chemical Co., supra, 143 Cal.App.3d 50, 191 Cal.Rptr. 537 (hereafter Chevron) Division Two of this court, found Fish and Game Code section 5650, subdivision (f), which makes it “unlawful to deposit in, permit to pass into or place where it can pass into waters of this State any ․ substance or material deleterious to fish, plant life or bird life,” to be a strict liability offense, noting that it was one of a class “public welfare crimes ․ purely regulatory in nature and involving widespread injury to the public.” (Id., at pp. 53–54, 191 Cal.Rptr. 537.) The court reasoned: “Section 5650 on its face does not require [proof of scienter or criminal negligence]. What is more important, however, is that the subject matter of this statute—the prevention of adverse impacts upon California's fish, plant life or bird life through water pollution—is clearly within the regulatory public welfare exception to the criminal prosecution mens rea requirement.” (Id., at p. 54, 191 Cal.Rptr. 537.) 8
The same court in Leslie Salt Co. v. San Francisco Bay Conservation etc. Com., supra, 153 Cal.App.3d 605, 200 Cal.Rptr. 575, relied upon Chevron to conclude that the McAteer-Petris Act (Gov.Code, § 66600 et seq.)—proscribing unauthorized fill of the San Francisco Bay—is a strict liability regulation, permitting the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission to issue cease and desist orders even to innocent landowners who passively countenanced the continued presence of fill on land within the commission's jurisdiction. Stressing that the goal of the legislation to protect a precious natural resource would be frustrated by implying an intent element into the statute (id., at pp. 616–617, 200 Cal.Rptr. 575), the court again applied the “public welfare exception to the requirement of guilty intent,” explaining:
“Thus, whether the context be civil or criminal, liability and the duty to take affirmative action flow not from the landowner's active responsibility for a condition of his land that causes widespread harm to others or his knowledge of or intent to cause such harm but rather, and quite simply, from his very possession and control of the land in question. (See Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358, 369–370 [178 Cal.Rptr. 783, 636 P.2d 1121].) This principle that the private right to control land carries with it certain strictly enforceable public responsibilities is, as we have seen, a venerable idea; and it is one that grows progressively more vital in the law as the interdependencies in our society become more apparent and the threats to the integrity of our environment more ominous.”
(Id., at p. 622, 200 Cal.Rptr. 575.)
Almost identical concerns are present in these proceedings. Sections 30803 and 30820 conspicuously have no intent requirements, as do other penalty provisions of the Coastal Act. Like the regulations at issue in Chevron and Leslie Salt Co., the Coastal Act is public welfare legislation aimed at protecting the environment. And the objectives of the Coastal Act, particularly in restraining violations inimical to the coastal zone, would be seriously subverted if we were to imply an intent requirement. Finally, the imposition of civil fines and injunctive relief seek to redress harm to the public rather than punish the offenders, thus making inquiry concerning the existence of mens rea irrelevant in determining the appropriate sanctions. We accordingly conclude that the trial court erred in finding that the good faith of respondents Hagiperos and Martel was a valid defense to the Commission's request for civil fines (§ 30820) and injunctive relief (§ 30803) as remedies for violations of the Coastal Act.
The Commission next contends that proof of violations of the Coastal Act requires issuance of the requested injunction. The Commission's claim is that once a violation of the act is established, an injunction must issue to restrain it. Respondents counter by arguing that “relative hardships” should be considered, which in the case at bench favor denial of injunctive relief.
The language of section 30803 supports the Commission's position by stating: “On a prima facie showing of a violation of this division, preliminary equitable relief shall be issued to restrain any further violation of this division.” (Emphasis added.) While section 30803 is not expressly applicable to an action seeking a permanent injunction, such as this one, we find that use of the mandatory term “shall” indicates a legislative intent to make injunctive relief automatic and undeniable once a violation is established.9 The paramount interest of the public in protecting the coastal zone (South Central Regional Com. v. Charles A. Pratt Construction Co., supra, 128 Cal.App.3d 830, 844, 180 Cal.Rptr. 555), demands the liberal use of injunctive relief to enjoin any violation of the Coastal Act. And an injunction is a proper remedy for statutory violations amounting to a public nuisance, such as those established here. (City of Los Angeles v. Silver (1979) 98 Cal.App.3d 745, 750, 159 Cal.Rptr. 762; City & County of San Francisco v. Padilla (1972) 23 Cal.App.3d 388, 401, 100 Cal.Rptr. 223.) We are thus persuaded that appellant, having proved at least a single violation of the Coastal Act, is entitled to injunctive relief in this opinion.
Even if we were balancing hardships, equitable considerations would demand that we restrain established violations of the Coastal Act. The only factor favoring denial of the injunction is laches. (Concerned Citizens of Palm Desert, Inc. v. Board of Supervisors (1974) 38 Cal.App.3d 257, 265, 113 Cal.Rptr. 328.) But respondents have failed to affirmatively prove any prejudice from the Commission's delay in instituting this action. And the manifest interest in protecting the coastal zone outweighs any demonstrated hardship to respondents.
Neither does the doctrine of “completed acts” bar injunctive relief, as respondents suggest. As noted, the violation persists, and can be effectively remedied by an injunction.
Finally, contrary to respondents' claim, the County of San Mateo is not an indispensable party so as to make compliance with an order to recombine the subdivided parcels impossible. Once the property owners are directed to recombine the parcels, they have the power to effectuate compliance with the court's order by presenting an appropriate map to the county for recording.
We accordingly conclude that the trial court erred in denying appellant's request for injunctive relief respecting those violations which we here find to have occurred.
Finally, we turn to respondents' request that we declare section 30103, which defines the “coastal zone,” as vague and violative of due process, or in the alternative that we construe the statute to exclude the property from the coverage and requirements of the Coastal Act, thus negating all claimed violations.
Section 30103, subdivision (a), defines the “coastal zone” as follows:
“ ‘Coastal zone’ means that land and water area of the State of California from the Oregon border to the border of the Republic of Mexico, specified on the maps identified and set forth in Section 17 of that chapter of the Statutes of the 1975–76 Regular Session enacting this division, extending seaward to the state's outer limit of jurisdiction, including all offshore islands, and extending inland generally 1,000 yards from the mean high tide line of the sea. In significant coastal estuarine, habitat, and recreational areas it extends inland to the first major ridgeline paralleling the sea or five miles from the mean high tide line of the sea, whichever is less, and in developed urban areas the zone generally extends inland less than 1,000 yards. The coastal zone does not include the area of jurisdiction of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, established pursuant to Title 7.2 (commencing with Section 66600) of the Government Code, nor any area contiguous thereto, including any river, stream, tributary, creek, or flood control of drainage channel flowing into such area.”
Respondents contend that in its reference to maps showing the boundary of the coastal zone, while at the same time specifying such boundary to be “generally 1,000 yards from the mean high tide line of the sea,” section 30103 is impermissibly vague. They also insist that by including within the coastal zone the larger area designated by the maps, rather than merely property 1,000 yards inland from the sea, section 30103 effectuates a taking of their property. Finally, respondents ask us to interpret section 30103 to exclude any reference to the maps in defining the coastal zone.
Addressing respondent's vagueness argument, we consider the objection to a reference in section 30103 to “maps identified and set forth in Section 17 of that chapter․” Respondents maintain that the boundaries of the coastal zone as depicted in such maps are not sufficiently ascertainable, and, more importantly, that they conflict with the verbal description of the coastal zone given in the statute—inland 1,000 yards from the mean high tide of the sea.
Generally, statutes must be upheld unless their unconstitutionality clearly, positively and unmistakably appears. (Collins v. Riley (1944) 24 Cal.2d 912, 915, 152 P.2d 169; People v. Demery (1980) 104 Cal.App.3d 548, 556, 163 Cal.Rptr. 814.) Thus, statutes are construed to clarify ambiguous terms and uncertainties can be removed by reference to common understanding or technical meanings. (Demery, supra; Pennisi v. Department of Fish & Game (1979) 97 Cal.App.3d 268, 277, 158 Cal.Rptr. 683.)
But it is an established principle of due process that an enactment is void for vagueness if its provisions and requirements are not clearly defined. (Grayned v. City of Rockford (1972) 408 U.S. 104, 108–109, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298–99, 33 L.Ed.2d 222; Music Plus Four, Inc. v. Barnet (1980) 114 Cal.App.3d 113, 125–126, 170 Cal.Rptr. 419.) No one may be required at peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of statutes. All are entitled to be informed as to what the state commands or forbids. “[A] statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess as to its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law. (Connally v. General Const. Co. (1926) 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 127, 70 L.Ed. 322; see also Bowland v. Municipal Court (1976) 18 Cal.3d 479, 491, 134 Cal.Rptr. 630, 556 P.2d 1081.) A statute must be definite enough to provide a standard of conduct for those whose activities are proscribed as well as for the ascertainment of guilt by the courts called upon to apply it.” (People v. McCaughan (1957) 49 Cal.2d 409, 414, 317 P.2d 974; Merandette v. City & County of San Francisco (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 105, 112, 151 Cal.Rptr. 580.) “ ‘The generally accepted criterion is whether the terms of the challenged statute are “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.” ’ ” (People v. Smith (1984) 35 Cal.3d 798, 809, 201 Cal.Rptr. 311, 678 P.2d 886.) Civil as well as criminal statutes must not violate the proscription against vagueness. (People v. McCaughan, supra, 49 Cal.2d 409, 414, 317 P.2d 974.)
But the presumptive validity of a legislative act militates against invalidating a statute merely because difficulty is found determining whether certain acts or offenses fell within its language. (People v. Smith, supra, 35 Cal.3d 798, 810, 201 Cal.Rptr. 311, 678 P.2d 886; Bowland v. Municipal Court, supra, 18 Cal.3d 479, 492, 134 Cal.Rptr. 630, 556 P.2d 1081.) “ ‘ “Reasonable certainty is all that is required.” (People v. Superior Court (Hartway) 19 Cal.3d 338, 345, 138 Cal.Rptr. 66, 562 P.2d 1315.) Mere difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of a statute will not render it nugatory. (People v. Anderson (1972) 29 Cal.App.3d 551, 561, 105 Cal.Rptr. 664.) A statute must only give sufficiently definite warning of the conduct it proscribes in terms reasonably certain to convey what is prohibited. (Hartway, supra, 19 Cal.3d at p. 347, 138 Cal.Rptr. 66, 562 P.2d 1315; Music Plus Four, Inc. v. Barnet, supra, 114 Cal.App.3d 113, 126, 170 Cal.Rptr. 419.) And in all cases, a statute must be considered, if possible, ‘from the standpoint of the reasonable man who might be subject to its terms.’ ” (People v. Cramblit (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 475, 482, 133 Cal.Rptr. 232.)
Section 30103 refers to maps of the coastal zone “set forth in Section 17” of chapter 1330 of the Statutes of 1976. Section 17 explains that the “coastal zone, as generally defined in Section 30103 of the Public Resources Code, shall include the land and water areas as shown on the ․ map prepared by the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission titled ‘California Coastal Zone’ dated August 11, 1976, and on file with the Secretary of State.” The maps so designated provide a specific and accurate description of the coastal zone; they are, in our view, an adequate source of information which, upon reasonable inspection, would clearly inform as to whether his property was or was not within the zone.
We also find no merit in respondents' assertion that the maps are defective and void as violative of the constitutional directive that all statutes must be enacted by bill and in that form signed by the Governor (Cal.Const, art. IV, §§ 8, 10). The Coastal Act, as a whole, was enacted in the manner required by law. The provisions of that legislation incorporate the maps into the Coastal Act as duly promulgated. We find no such irregularity as is claimed.
As to the claimed inconsistency between the maps and the reference in section 30103 to “1,000 yards from the mean high tide line of the sea,” we have no difficulty ascertaining the legislative intent underlying the statutory language and construing its provisions so as to clarify any ambiguity. Upon reading section 30103 in its entirety, it is evident that the maps are intended to provide the specific boundary of the coastal zone as determined by the Commission, with mere general guidance being given by the reference to the area 1,000 yards inland from the sea. We thus harmonize the provisions of the law in accordance with an established maxim of statutory interpretation (California Mfrs. Assn v. Public Utilities Com. (1979) 24 Cal.3d 836, 844, 157 Cal.Rptr. 676, 598 P.2d 836), while at the same time furthering the objectives of the Coastal Act by liberally protecting the state's coastal resources. (South Central Coast Regional Com. v. Charles A. Pratt Construction Co., supra, 128 Cal.App.3d 830, 844, 180 Cal.Rptr. 555.) As so construed, section 30103 is neither vague nor ambiguous, providing as it does clear notice of the property defined as within the “coastal zone,” including the 105-acre parcel which is the subject of the instant dispute, as conceded by respondents in their briefs.
Respondents also contend that if the property is part of the “coastal zone” for purposes of the Coastal Act, then section 30103 results in an unconstitutional taking of property in violation of their due process rights. The essence of respondents' contention is that the “coastal zone boundary purportedly established by the referenced maps bears no rational relationship to the arguably legitimate purposes of the act, and thus the substantial interference with property owners' rights worked by the act amounts to a taking, giving rise to liability in inverse condemnation.”
The Coastal Act has been repeatedly found not to constitute an unlawful taking. In an analogous case involving the imposition of rigorous limitations on the use of private property, Agins v. City of Tiburon (1979) 24 Cal.3d 266, 157 Cal.Rptr. 372, 598 P.2d 25, our high court declared that such limitations are not the equivalent of a taking requiring compensation. The court reasoned that “although a landowner so aggrieved may challenge both the constitutionality of the ordinance and the manner in which it is applied to his property by seeking to establish the invalidity of the ordinance either through the remedy of declaratory relief or mandamus, he may not recover damages on the theory of inverse condemnation.” (Id., at pp. 269–270, 157 Cal.Rptr. 372, 598 P.2d 25.) The reasoning of Agins has been specifically applied to the Coastal Act to deny claims that it results in compensable takings. (Walter H. Leimert Co. v. California Coastal Com., supra, 149 Cal.App.3d 222, 234–235, 196 Cal.Rptr. 739; Briggs v. State of California ex rel. Dept of Parks & Recreation, supra, 98 Cal.App.3d 190, 202–207, 159 Cal.Rptr. 390; Sierra Club, Inc. v. California Coastal Com., supra, 95 Cal.App.3d 495, 502–503, 157 Cal.Rptr. 190; Reed v. California Coastal Zone Conservation Com. (1975) 55 Cal.App.3d 889, 894, 127 Cal.Rptr. 786.)
Nor have respondents established that the inclusion within the “coastal zone” of all property designated by the maps constitutes a violation of due process. When entertaining a substantive due process challenge to legislation, “[i]t is the well settled rule that determination of the necessity and form of regulations enacted pursuant to the police power ‘is primarily a legislative and not a judicial function, and is to be tested in the courts not by what the judges individually or collectively may think of the wisdom or necessity of a particular regulation, but solely by the answer to the question “is there any reasonable basis in fact to support the legislative determination of the regulation's wisdom and necessity?” ’ (Consolidated Rock Products Co. v. City of Los Angeles, 57 Cal.2d 515, 522, [20 Cal.Rptr. 638, 370 P.2d 342.] ․ [E]ven if the reasonableness of the regulation is fairly debatable, the legislative determination will not be disturbed. (Hammer v. Town of Ross, 59 Cal.2d 776, 783 [31 Cal.Rptr. 335, 382 P.2d 375].) [Citation.] This rule follows the reasoning of a line of cases emanating from the United States Supreme Court decisions in Williamson v. Optical Co. (1955) 348 U.S. 483, 488 [99 L.Ed. 563, 572, 75 S.Ct. 461, 464], and Ferguson v. Skrupa (1963) 372 U.S. 726 [10 L.Ed.2d 93, 83 S.Ct. 1028, 95 A.L.R.2d 1347]. In Ferguson the court said that under the due process clause: ‘ “We have returned to the original constitutional proposition that courts do not substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of legislative bodies, who are elected to pass laws.” ’ (Ferguson v. Skrupa, supra, 372 U.S. 726, 730 [83 S.Ct. 1028, 1031, 10 L.Ed.2d 83, 97].)” (Remmenga v. California Coastal Com. (1985) 163 Cal.App.3d 623, 629, 209 Cal.Rptr. 628.)
The record is absolutely devoid of any showing by respondents that the “coastal zone” as defined by the maps does not serve any valid governmental interest. To the contrary, given the undisputed and overriding need to protect the fragile resources and natural environment of the state's coastal zone, dictating a liberal application of the Coastal Acts provisions (Urban Renewal Agency v. California Coastal Zone Conservation Com., supra, 15 Cal.3d 577, 588, 125 Cal.Rptr. 485, 542 P.2d 645), we find ample reason to uphold section 30103 as a valid exercise of the state's police power. (CEEED v. California Coastal Zone Conservation Co., supra, 43 Cal.App.3d 306, 314, 118 Cal.Rptr. 315.)
To recapitulate, since the original subdivision of the 105-acre parcel into four lots was completed before the effective date of the Coastal Act, it is valid. The vested rights exemption provides a defense to the Commission's challenge to any development of the property as so subdivided—including construction of a house or well on the subdivided lots—undertaken as part of the original four-lot subdivision. The second subdivision of Parcel C into two lots is not exempt from the provisions of the Coastal Act, but the applicable one-year statute of limitations bars the request for additional civil fines and exemplary damages for the attempt to create it. Only the claims for civil fines under section 30820 and injunctive relief survive.
In their cross-appeal, the Graves argue that the trial court should have dismissed the Commission's action against them for lack of evidence. They insist that the trial court erred by failing to grant their motion for judgment pursuant to section 631.8 of the Code of Civil Procedure, pointing out that they did no more than own the property, which, they claim, did not amount to “development” thereof in violation of the Coastal Act. They also note that they rescinded their purchase agreement with respondents Hagiperos and Martel and consequently did not in fact own the property at the time of trial.
Unapproved “development” of property in the coastal zone is a violation of the Act (§§ 30600, 30601, 30820) justifying civil fines and exemplary damages. (§§ 30820, 30821, 30822.) Since violations of the Act are continuing in nature and persist until cured or otherwise abated (CEEED v. California Coastal Zone Conservation Com., supra, 43 Cal.App.3d 306, 318, 118 Cal.Rptr. 315), even those who, like the Graves, acquire property which has been developed without legal sanction from the Commission, take such property subject to remedial action curative of violations of the Act. Injunctive relief against such property owners may be necessary and proper to restrain or correct violations of the Coastal Act. Civil fines and exemplary damages continue to be appropriate penalties against those who knowingly maintain property which has been developed in violation of the Act.
Once the Graves discovered the possible violations, however, they rescinded their purchase agreement with the developers of the property and, soon after this action commenced, ceased to enjoy the status of owners. Under these circumstances, we think the Graves cannot be charged with violations of the Act, as they neither developed the property within the meaning of section 30106, nor presently own it in a condition violative of the Coastal Act. Nor is it necessary for purposes of adequate injunctive relief to include the Graves as a party to any order restraining further violations of the Act. The case against the Graves must be dismissed.10
The Graves also claim that the trial court erred by denying their request for expenses and attorney's fees under section 2034, subdivision (c) of the Code of Civil Procedure, which provides: “If a party, after being served with a request under Section 2033 to admit the genuineness of any documents or the truth of any matters of fact, serves a sworn denial thereof and if the party requesting the admissions thereafter proves the genuineness of any document or the truth of any matter of fact, he may apply to the court in the same action for an order requiring the other party to pay him or her the reasonable expenses incurred in making the proof, including reasonable attorney's fees. If the court finds that there were no good reasons for the denial and that the admissions sought were of substantial importance, the order shall be made.”
We find, however, that the Graves have failed to establish lack of good cause for the Commission's refusal to admit the truth of the matters set out in their request for admission. Moreover, according to the record, the expenses for proof would have been minimal in light of the minor involvement of Graves' counsel at trial. And, finally, the Graves did not properly itemize their expenses to indicate the costs caused by appellant's refusal to make the admissions requested, as is required for recovery under Code of Civil Procedure section 2034, subdivision (c). (Smith v. Circle P. Ranch Co. (1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 267, 277–280, 150 Cal.Rptr. 828.) The trial court therefore did not abuse its discretion in denying the Graves' motion for expenses.
The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part as previously indicated, and the case remanded to the trial court for proceedings not inconsistent with the views expressed herein. Each side is to bear their own costs on appeal.
1. All further statutory references are to the Public Resources Code unless otherwise indicated.
2. We leave it to the trial court upon remand to determine the extent of respondents' vested rights to develop the property, if any, in accordance with the views expressed herein.
3. In pertinent part, section 30801 provides: “Any aggrieved person shall have a right to judicial review of any decision or action of the commission or a regional commission by filing a petition for a writ of mandate in accordance with the provisions of Section 1094.5 of the Code of Civil Procedure, within 60 days after such decision or action has become final.”Section 30802 provides: “Any person, including an application for a permit or the commission, aggrieved by the decision or action of a local government that is implementing a certified local coastal program or certified port master plan, or is exercising its powers pursuant to Section 30600.5, which decision or action may or may not be appealed to the commission, shall have a right to judicial review of such decision or action by filing a petition for writ of mandate in accordance with the provisions of Section 1094.5 of the Code of Civil Procedure within 60 days after the decision or action has become final. The commission may intervene in any such proceeding upon a showing that the matter involves a question of the conformity of a proposed development with a certified local coastal program or certified port master plan or the validity of a local government action taken to implement a local coastal program or certified port master plan. Any local government or port governing body may request that the commission intervene. Notice of this action against a local government or port governing body shall be filed with the commission within five working days of the filing of this action. When an action is brought challenging the validity of a local coastal program or certified port master plan, a preliminary showing shall be made prior to proceeding on the merits as to why such action should not have been brought pursuant to the provisions of Section 30801.”
4. These statutes of limitations are applicable to the state and its agencies in the same way as they are to a private person. (Code Civ.Proc., § 345.)
5. We add that in the case at bench the violation still at issue entails no great damage to the public, as it can be easily remedied—by recombination of the two parcels and removal of any construction not authorized by the original subdivision—and thus no more than a nominal fine would be justified.
6. For any development of the property made possible by and based upon the second subdivision, the period of limitations accrued when the relevant building or other permits were obtained.
7. It is also established that a statute of limitations does not run on a continuing nuisance. (Civ.Code., § 3490; Phillips v. City of Pasadena (1945) 27 Cal.2d 104, 107, 162 P.2d 625; Tucker v. Watkins (1967) 251 Cal.App.2d 327, 333, 59 Cal.Rptr. 453.) Neither does a period of limitations accrue while a statutory violation continues. (City of Fontana v. Atkinson (1963) 212 Cal.App.2d 499, 509, 28 Cal.Rptr. 25.)Contemporary environmental legislation such as the Coastal Act represents a legislative declaration that acts injurious to the state's natural resources constitute a public nuisance. (CEEED v. California Coastal Zone Conservation Com. (1974) 43 Cal.App.3d 306, 318, 118 Cal.Rptr. 315; see also Leslie Salt Co. v. San Francisco Bay Conservation etc. Com. (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 605, 618, 200 Cal.Rptr. 575.) The action to restrain the violation of the Coastal Act is thus akin to a suit to abate a continuous public nuisance, delaying accrual of the applicable statutes of limitations. Since none of the statutory violations were cured by the time appellant filed its complaint, the one and three-year periods of limitations did not run on the injunctive relief action. (City of Fontana v. Atkinson, supra, 212 Cal.App.2d 499, 509, 28 Cal.Rptr. 25.)
8. We express no view of the propriety of dispensing with the mens rea requirement of Penal Code section 20 in criminal “public welfare” cases, but have no difficulty in admitting such an exception in the civil area.
9. We express some consternation that the Legislature has failed to specially provide standards for granting permanent injunctive relief, and particularly note that nothing in this opinion should be construed as sanctioning such relief upon a mere “prima facie” showing.
10. In light of this conclusion, we need not address the Graves' contention that judgment in their favor is required as a sanction for appellant's failure to respond to requests for admissions. We add, however, that the Graves must remain parties to the present action for the sole purpose of insuring that they take any action necessary to effectuate recombination of the two lots created by the second subdivision.
NEWSOM, Associate Justice.
RACANELLI, P.J., and HOLMDAHL, J., concur.