Granted Public Trust Lands

View of the Pacific Ocean from a sandy beach on a clear day.

Program Background

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 sovereign lands have restrictions on their management and use. 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 over 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 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 the State of California v. State Lands Commission v. County of Orange (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d 20.

Grantee Information

Below are links to grantee pages. Each page has information about granting statutes, boundary line agreements, Commission approvals, and other useful information to help you become knowledgeable about a particular grant.

Each page contains a breadth of interesting information about a grant’s public trust lands and assets, including boundary line agreements, granting statutes, statements of revenues and expenditures relating to that grant’s trust lands and trust assets, and staff reports. These pages are intended to enhance transparency and ensure that information about legislatively granted public trust lands is readily available.

Disclaimer: These summaries have been prepared in an effort to highlight key elements relevant to the grants in an abbreviated format. These summaries are not exhaustive nor are they intended to replace the language found in the legislative granting statutes or other controlling materials. Although every effort has been made to avoid mischaracterization of the grants and the language in the granting statutes, any failure to do so is not binding or intentional. Please refer to the applicable granting statutes directly for a more complete description of the legislation.


Program Manager
Reid Boggiano

Dredging Notices & Financial Reports
Michaela Moser