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O.C. couple battles city over picnic property

February 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A Newport Beach couple is fighting the city for rights to a picnic area on their own property that the city wants wants to tear down.Many people dream of living on the beach with sunny skies, the jagged peaks and the crashing waves.

However, George and Sharlee McNamee will tell you that it's no picnic, especially when you have a picnic area near the beach.

"It's frustrating beyond description," said Sharlee.

"It's my backyard. I own it. I pay the taxes on it," said George McNamee.

The McNamees have lived in their Newport Beach home for 34 years. They've spent the last nine of those years fighting the California Coastal Commission over a gas grill, a thatched palapa and some picnic tables that all sit on land they own.

The commission ruled that all these things confuse the public into thinking the stretch of beach is privately owned.

"Right from the very start, they said there will be no compromise. We want everything out and if you don't take it out, we'll fine you $6,000 per day," said George.

Eyewitness News wanted to get the California Coastal Commission's argument, but our calls were not returned.

The McNamees are now fighting the backyard beach battle in court with pro bono help from the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The 4th District Court of Appeals should have a ruling in the next 90 days.

"I don't know anybody else who has to ask permission from any other agency to have a barbeque in their backyard or a table. You don't go to the city and ask if you can have a picnic table in your backyard," Sharlee described.

But even if the appeals court rules in favor of the McNamees, it doesn't mean victory. The commission can appeal to the State Supreme Court, and the McNamees don't know if they'll have the money or the time to fight that battle.

"You take the money that you were going to leave for kids and grandchildren and you spend it on today so you do everything you can for property rights and freedom," said George.

For now, the McNamees will keep standing up to the commission by sitting down at their picnic table and enjoying their backyard while drawing a line in the sand in the battle for property rights.