Oshen's project started in October 2005 when he was called by a pair of friends, Dan Norris and Peggy Gilder, who were involved in a legal bind with the CCC. They wanted Oshen to film a CCC inspection of their property. Norris and Gilder insist that the inspection came about because nosy neighbors and a CCC agent trespassed on their posted private property, looking for complaints to trigger an inspection.
The inspection was accompanied by a court order that explicitly forbade Norris and Gilder from filming the proceedings—though at least one of the sheriff's deputies brought along by the CCC inspectors (who were also accompanied by a deputy attorney general) was filming, as can be seen in the footage Oshen did shoot. That footage appears in the rough cut of his documentary.
As Oshen told me, that October day on the 40-acre Norris/Gilder property on Old Topanga Canyon Road in the Santa Monica Mountains was the first time Oshen had even really heard of the CCC. Oshen was amazed to discover a government land use agency with the power, and the desire, to prevent citizens from making an independent record of what happened during an official inspection—thus putting that citizen at a decided disadvantage in any later court proceedings where their version of events diverges from that of a government official.
As CCC Executive Director Douglas humbly told Oshen on-camera in the film (along with describing himself as a "radical pagan"), his unelected commission (whose members are appointed by the governor and leaders of the two state houses) doesn't have the power of eminent domain. All it has is the power to regulate, plan, and enforce restrictions on pretty much any action involving land within five miles of the coast, which means it doesn't really need the power of eminent domain at all. It can largely control the land anyway. This also makes the CCC a walking separation of powers nightmare. Indeed, in 2002 the state's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the CCC's structure on separation of powers grounds, though that decision was more about how the commission was appointed than how it exercised power. That decision was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.
See, for an example, the story of Kathleen Kenny, one of the stars of Oshen's documentary, now deceased. Kenny beat back local inspectors' assaults on her for building on her own property. She even in 1997 won an unprecedented RICO suit against local government officials for harassing her, a case where she acted as her own lawyer. Despite this, she was never able to shake off the CCC from coming after her for more or less the same offense. It has levied multi-million dollar fines that still hang over the head of her living partner, Arthur Starz.
Indeed, the CCC is still on the march. Even as it's compelling Oshen to kick up his footage, a bill is now being considered in the California state legislature that will give the CCC independent power to levy $5,000-$50,000 "administrative civil penalties" (in addition to any other fines or penalties) for violations of its ukases without having to get a court involved. The agency could then use that money for...more enforcement actions. Another bill would dictate that anyone with an unresolved CCC violation order over their heads could not submit an application for any other development permit from the CCC, on that land or any contiguous land.