Granted Public Trust Lands
California acquired all right, title, and interest in tide and submerged lands and beds of navigable waterways within its borders when it became a state in 1850. These lands are sovereign, not proprietary, and have restrictions on their management and use. Unlike proprietary lands, the California Constitution, California law and the common law Public Trust Doctrine prohibit the sale or alienation of sovereign lands except in limited circumstances. All sovereign lands are held in trust for the benefit of the people of California.
The Legislature has enacted more than 300 statutes granting sovereign public trust lands to over 80 local municipalities (referred to as grantees or trustees) to manage in trust for the people of California. The terms and conditions of trust grants vary and are governed by the specific granting statute(s), the Public Trust Doctrine, the California Constitution, and case law. The specific uses permitted in each granting statute vary. Some trust grants authorize the construction of ports, harbors, airports, wharves, docks, piers, slips, quays and other structures necessary to facilitate commerce and navigation, while others allow only visitor serving recreational uses or open space. All grants reserve to the people the right to fish in the waters over the lands and the right to convenient access to those waters for that purpose.
Revenues generated by a trustee arising out of the use or operation of their granted lands are State trust assets and must be reinvested back into the trust. These revenues must be kept separate from the local entity’s general fund and may not be used for any municipal purpose, or any purpose unconnected with the trust. Expenditures of trust funds by a trustee must be consistent with the Public Trust Doctrine and the statutory trust grant.
While granted public trust lands and assets are managed locally, the Legislature delegated the State's residual and review authority for granted lands to the Commission. The Commission represents the statewide public interest to ensure that trustees operate their grants in conformance with the California Constitution, applicable granting statutes, and the Public Trust Doctrine. Public Resources Code section 6301 provides, among other things, "all jurisdiction and authority remaining in the State as to tidelands and submerged lands as to which grants have been or may be made is vested in the commission." This oversight has ranged from working cooperatively to assist trustees on issues involving boundary determinations, trust consistency determinations and land exchanges, to judicial confrontations involving billions of dollars of trust assets, e.g., serving as amicus curiae in Mallon v. City of Long Beach (1955) 44 Cal.2d 199, 211 and as plaintiff in State of California v. State Lands Commission v. County of Orange (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d 20.
The Commission interacts with grantees in many ways. We assist grantees with boundary determinations, trust consistency determinations, public access, and are a resource for granted lands or public trust related questions. We are also a resource for sea-level rise preparedness on granted lands. Below is a link to pages that contain valuable information about granting statutes, boundary line agreements, Commission approvals, and other useful information to help you become knowledgeable about a particular grant.
for Sea-Level Rise Impacts
Assessing the impacts of sea-level rise for legislatively granted Public Trust lands is a management priority for local trustees. Trustees with average annual gross revenue from their trust lands that exceed $250,000 are required to prepare and submit to the Commission, by July 1, 2019, an assessment of how they propose to address sea-level rise. The following criteria, resources, and tools are meant to assist trustees with their sea-level rise assessment. The Commission strives to be a resource for and provide assistance to the state's legislative trustees in their management of Public Trust lands and resources, and is available to assist trustees with their sea-level assessment.