Marv Paoli may never build the 10-room inn that he hoped to construct on his vacant land near the ocean. But perhaps he can take some comfort from knowing that he got even with the foot-dragging bureaucrats at the California Coastal Commission who stopped him. He successfully filed a claim against them under a little-known 1949 law that allows citizens to request disciplinary action against state employees.
Paoli sought a permit to build an inconspicuous, sod-roofed inn east of the coastal highway. The two commission staffers named in his complaint gave him a classic bureaucratic runaround. He gave them a written presentation to submit to the commissioners; they lost it the same day. They promised to let him know the commission's position as soon as it decided, but they never told him. The commission held a public hearing on his request but mailed his notice on the day of the hearing. The report the staffers eventually gave the commissioners was inaccurate in a number of ways detrimental to Paoli, and they were "generally uncooperative and failed to return his telephone calls," according to findings by the administrative law judge.
The judge fined the commission staffers 10 percent of their salary for 3 months. The decision has been upheld by a state court and is now on appeal (the commission employees are being represented at taxpayer expense by the attorney general's office).
The judge said that he hoped this fine would be severe enough to "convince them that the citizen is important and his property rights are important and that he cannot be deprived of those rights in a cavalier manner." Of course, the citizen still can be deprived of his property rights in a noncavalier manner. Paoli was. The permit was granted to him only on the condition that he give up (without compensation) the right to build anything elsewhere on his land.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Revenge of the Citizen".