SOLANA BEACH — Despite objections from several bluff-top homeowners and an attorney representing them and about 2,000 others in a lawsuit against the city, council voted 4-1 at the May 22 meeting to approve amendments to a plan they adopted in February that will allow more control over development in Solana Beach.
Resident and attorney Jon Corn said the changes to the Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan are legally necessary, “desperately needed” and an acknowledgement the document approved a few months ago “does have defects.”
“I’m certainly glad that we’re pursuing the process,” Corn said. “It’s a start on what we need to do. And in some places it’s a very good start. In some places it goes backwards. And in some places it doesn’t go far enough.”
On behalf of the Beach & Bluff Conservancy, which includes many coastal property owners, Corn filed a lawsuit April 26 against the city that named each council member individually.
The suit claims officials, when they adopted the LUP in February, enacted policies that will prevent oceanfront property owners from protecting their property from erosion with sea walls and make it significantly harder for them to keep and maintain private beach stairways.
Corn urged council members at the May 22 meeting to send the amendments “back to the drawing board,” noting the biggest problem is “it doesn’t seem that the city will budge on the three issues that are most troubling to the city’s coastal property owners.”
Those issues address sea wall permits, private beach-access stairways and how far from the bluffs any new development or major redevelopment can occur.
“The proposed amendments do not adequately address our concerns,” said resident Pam Richardson, who is currently president of the Seascape Shores homeowners association. “Don’t turn your backs on so many citizens of Solana Beach and those who would like to safely enjoy our beaches.”
In addressing sea walls, the amendments state, “All permits for bluff retention devices shall expire 20 years after the building permit completion certification date, and a new (coastal development permit) must be obtained.”
Bluff-top owners say sea walls are necessary to keep their property from collapsing onto the beach below because of erosion. They also say the devices protect the public from bluff failures.
They claim the 20-year limit amounts to a “taking of private property” and the provision doesn’t guarantee renewal.
City staff said the provision simply means permits must be revisited every 20 years.
“You are allowed to protect your property if you have emergency conditions,” City Manager David Ott said. “If you still have those same conditions after 20 years then you will be allowed to keep your sea wall and have your permit re-established. So yes, you have to go through a process and you have to have it evaluated on any changed conditions.”
City Attorney Johanna Canlas said the 20-year reassessment is “currently being imposed up and down the state.”
She said if it was eliminated, sea walls would still need approval from the California Coastal Commission, which could impose conditions beyond those set by the city.
“Independent of whether or not we have a certified LCP, those application(s) require coastal approval and … as part of their permitting process (they) may impose … any other conditions they deem fit,” she said.
Those opposing the bluff-retention devices, such as members of Surfrider Foundation, say they prevent the natural creation of a beach and will eventually eliminate land that belongs to the public.
The amendments also state, “No new private beach stairways shall be constructed, and private beach stairways shall be phased out at the end of the economic life of the structures.
“Upon application for a City permit for the replacement of a private beach stairway or replacement of greater than 50 % thereof, private beach accessways may be converted to public accessways where feasible and public access can be reasonably provided.”
Private beach-access stairways are located mostly in the city’s condominium developments. Owners say converting them for public use will create added security, maintenance and parking issues and many feel the provision will result in public access to their property.
Councilman Tom Campbell sided with the homeowners.
“I just think it’s absolutely ludicrous that you’re going to try to tell someone that they have a private staircase and all of a sudden you’re going to eliminate their ability to use it,” he said. “That’s just not sensible at all.”
City Councilwoman Lesa Heebner interpreted the provision differently.
“Private stairs should remain private,” she said. “We’ve given the language that will allow that to occur through saying … ‘reasonable and feasible.’ I think that the language that we have in there is as strong as we could possibly make it.
“It’s just not reasonable and feasible to have the public marching through people’s private property to get to the beach, especially when there are public access stairways very nearby,” she added. “Those people who are using those private stairways can rest assured that they will remain private.”
A Local Coastal Plan is required by the California Coastal Act of 1976. It guides development in coastal areas to basically ensure public access to beaches and is made up of a land-use plan and implementation plan.
All of Solana Beach is considered a coastal zone so new development must be approved by the city and the California Coastal Commission. With an approved LCP, most new development would only require city approval.
Solana Beach, the only city in the county without a certified LCP, has submitted seven versions since 2001.
With Campbell dissenting, council adopted an LUP with a 4-1 vote in February and directed staff to work with stakeholders to make changes that would be submitted to the Coastal Commission later as amendments.
At that meeting council members said it was important to keep the process moving forward. Most said the same about the amendments.
“I believe we’ll have future discussion on this as the years go on,” Mayor Mike Nichols said, adding the document can be fine-tuned during the implementation process. “This is a living document. It’s not the final say on any of this but we need to continue to move forward.”
Campbell again cast the only opposing vote despite being upset by the recent lawsuit.
“I didn’t vote in favor of the LUP but you still went ahead and named me individually,” he told Corn. “You guys aren’t approaching this the right way.”
Representing the Surfrider Foundation, resident Jim Jaffee supports the changes, noting the U.S. Constitution has 27 amendments.
“Doing small amendments is not a risky thing,” he said. “It’s a common thing. It’s the nature of our government.”
He offered three options to council that would have been acceptable to environmentalists. “But based on the lawsuits now it seems like no matter what you do you’re going to be caught in a rock and a hard place,” he said.
Surfrider filed a lawsuit against the city more than a decade ago when the process began but eventually dropped it.
The amendments will be presented to the Coastal Commission for approval during its October meeting in San Diego.