03Apr
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A La Jolla, California property owner is continuing a longer-than-a-decade battle to keep a portion of his property off-limits to the general public, citing safety concerns. The property in question sits at the base of Princess Street in La Jolla, and a gate that once allowed public access to the adjacent beach is a part of that property.

Beach access advocates claim that it’s not right to bar access to the beach. The fight extends far beyond the current resident, however; it began in 1978.

The original construction

The property first belonged to Jane Baker, who built her home above the beach path. At the time, the construction of the gate and pathway to the beach was challenged in court, and no decision was reached about whether she was free to build her property on the land.

Before she moved away, Baker never signed a revised permit to allow public access, even though the California Coastal Committee (CCC) had reached a decision requiring public access once the pathway and gate’s building permit was granted. When Baker left the property, she notified the next resident, Chris McKeller, that he should observe the CCC’s requirement and allow access.

The lineage of legal issues

McKeller took ownership of the property in 1989, but he didn’t allow public access to the beach through the gate. While he didn’t fight the access requirement directly, he didn’t do as Baker had advised and honor the CCC’s mandate to keep the pathway open to the public.

In 1993 the current owner, Ure Kretowicz, acquired the property through a foreclosure. He has taken a dramatically different approach to the issue for the last decade, and choosing fought it head on.

However, Kretowicz claims that his concern is not primarily the property owner’s rights, but the safety of people who would use the path. Others in the community seem to agree that the path is not safe.

Who has a right to what?

Beach access advocates are currently fighting to have the gate open to public access, and the current owner has fought this for more than a decade. It does raise an interesting question, not only for residents but for real estate professionals in the La Jolla area, as well as homeowners everywhere.

It even raises legal questions of national import of who has a right to what. The local judge has already cleared the way for the path to be opened, but if the property owner’s safety concerns prove to be valid, will he be liable for injuries?

Does the public’s right to gain access to beaches and other public land take priority over a homeowner’s control of his property? Does a homeowner have the right to build on land that is under consideration as a potential site of government construction?

If the homeowner wins the legal battle, what will that mean for the future of public access cases? And if public-access advocates win, will that change other aspects of the rights of homeowners? Will it change how real estate is practiced and how properties are bought and sold?

These questions have all been stirred by the La Jolla beach access case. While the real estate in question is only one home in southern California, the precedent created when the case is finally settled could change home ownership (and the rights of homeowners) in California, and perhaps across the country.

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