SOLANA BEACH — Two groups of residents representing hundreds of property owners filed a lawsuit against the city in late spring in response to council’s unanimous April 23 approval of a mixed-use affordable housing development on a city-owned parking lot in the 500 block of South Sierra Avenue.
“This small parking lot is an important public access area for the beach,” Kiersten Turrell of Save Our Solana Beach Access stated in a July 29 press release.
“This project would remove this access site, making it more difficult for members of the public to visit and enjoy this important natural resource. … The City Council has demonstrated no understanding about how people access the beach, the seasonal traffic and parking patterns on South Sierra.”
According to the press release, Everett DeLano, an attorney representing the homeowners, notes there are 12 causes of action in the lawsuit, including a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.
The lawsuit also claims the city’s approval was an illegal use of taxpayer funds.
DeLano states the site is on land given to the city with a deed restriction that it be used for public parking.
Hitzke Development Corporation has been working with the city for about three years to build a 10-unit, mixed-use complex that would satisfy a decades-old legal requirement.
Although all cities must provide affordable housing, Solana Beach has been subject to lawsuits since the 1990s after City Council took action that closed a mobile home park.
Affordable housing advocates threatened litigation, claiming low-income units had been eliminated. Rather than go to trial, the city entered into what become known as the Perl settlement which, among other things, mandated the replacement of 13 affordable units.
Since then three have been provided.
The Hitzke proposal is a three-story complex on a 14,721-square-foot lot with three approximately 500-square-foot one-bedroom units, three two-bedroom townhomes that are 918 to 1,032 square feet, three three-bedroom units ranging from 1,002 to 1,232 square feet and a 1,383-square-foot four bedroom.
The existing parking lot has 31 public spaces, all of which would be replaced. Hitzke will also provide the required 18 spaces for the residential component and another four for the commercial space, which is slated for office use.
Residents said they are concerned the replacement spaces will be smaller and underground, making them difficult to access.
They also fear the project will result in increased traffic, parking and noise issues and a loss of property values.
According to the press release, the lawsuit alleges the city failed to prepare an environmental analysis or consider feasible alternatives with fewer impacts.
“Local residents attempted to participate in the process in a meaningful way, but at every turn we were rebuffed,” stated Bill Gifford, president of Seascape Surf Estate Management Association, on whose behalf the lawsuit was filed.
“Residents did not get proper notice of many of the meetings and the City made it very difficult to participate in the public process,” Gifford added.
City Manager David Ott said city policy is “not to comment on the merits of litigation other than to say the city’s position will be defended vigorously.”
But at the April meeting, when the project was approved, City Attorney Johanna Canlas said she took “great issue with any allegations of illegality.”
She said she and city staff went “above and beyond” city protocol for noticing, including hand delivering copies of the staff report to homeowners associations.
“The lawsuit’s claims that this project will compromise existing beach and business parking simply are not true,” Marco Gonzalez, an attorney with Coast Law Group who is representing Hitzke, said. “There are currently 31 public parking spaces available, and when the development is completed, there will be 35.
“Unfortunately, while the project was being processed, it became readily apparent the opposition was, in fact, more concerned about the affordable nature of the development than any impacts that might occur from the 10 units,” he added.
“This is exactly the type of lawsuit that has caused legislators to push for CEQA reform in Sacramento,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an abuse of the law’s intent.”
Tom Ryan, chairman of the Condominium Organization of South Sierra Avenue that represents other condominium associations on South Sierra, said his group has no plans to take action against the city.
Seascape Sur, also headed by Gifford, withdrew from COOSSA the day after the project was approved.