Nollan v. California Coastal Commission

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483 U.S. 825 (1987), argued 30 Mar. 1987, decided 26 June 1987 by vote of 5 to 4; Scalia for the Court, Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens in dissent. An important takings decision, Nollan involved a challenge to an effort by California to enhance the public's enjoyment of state beaches. California required the Nollans, owners of a small beachfront bungalow, to dedicate to the state a beach-access easement as a condition for obtaining a state permit to replace and expand their bungalow. The easement would have given the public a permanent right to walk along a narrow strip of the Nollan's beach. The Supreme Court invalidated the state's effort on the ground that California's demand for a public easement amounted to a taking of private property without the payment of just compensation.

Nollan is significant because, in weighing the validity of California's action, the Court required a showing that the easement condition would substantially advance the state's interest in alleviating the congestion caused by beachfront construction. The principal effect of the Nollan's new home was to reduce the public's ability to see and enjoy the beach from the street. The easement that California demanded, however, would only have benefited persons already on the beach and would not have enhanced visual access from a distance. For the majority, this connection or “nexus” between the harm (reduced visual access) and the remedy (enhanced physical access) was too tenuous. Several dissenting justices criticized the majority for requiring more than just a loose, rational connection between harm and remedy.

Eric T. Freyfogle

Subjects: Law.

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