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Rancho Santa Fe

Arguments heard over private Encinitas seawall, staircase

ENCINITAS — A lawsuit challenging the California Coastal Commission’s stance on an Encinitas families’ private seawall and staircase is now in the hands of three state appeals court judges, after the court heard arguments from both sides on Monday morning.

The case has generated much attention as private homeowners throughout the state are at odds with the state’s coastal protection agency’s stance regarding seawalls, which are typically concrete or wooden barriers built at the base of cliffs to stabilize them and protect homes built atop coastal bluffs.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals heard the Coastal Commission’s appeal to a lower court ruling overturning both the reconstruction of a private staircase and the state agency’s imposition of a clause that would require Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick to reapply for a permit for their seawall after 20 years.

The families were applying for a permit to build a state-of-the-art concrete seawall to replace their aging wooden one and rebuild the private staircase from their homes to the beach below, after storms in 2010 largely wiped out both structures.

The seawall and staircase had been on the property since the 1970s, and the Coastal Commission formally approved both structures in 1989, attorneys said.

Much of Monday’s 30-minute hearing revolved around the staircase, which the Coastal Commission said could not be rebuilt because it runs afoul of Encinitas’ current general plan, which calls for the phasing out of private coastal staircases. State law, said Deputy Attorney General Hayley Peterson, allows coastal structures to be rebuilt in the event of a disaster so long as the structure doesn’t violate local ordinances.

Paul Beard, an attorney representing the families, argued that no such local ordinance exists. While the general plan discusses a private staircase phase out, the city’s zoning code — which codifies the city’s intent as laid out in the General Plan — does not include such a phase out.

Williams countered that a local provision known as a coastal overlay zone restricts development along to coastal bluffs to seawalls, public staircases and landscape maintenance. Beard, after the proceedings, said that the zone’s language is silent on private staircases.

“That code … doesn’t even touch at what is at heart of this case,” Beard said.

The panel, which included Administrative Presiding Justice Judith McConnell and associate justices Cynthia Aaron and Gilbert Nares, has 90 days after the arguments have been officially filed to render a judgment.

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