SOLANA BEACH — After 10 years of study and stakeholder feedback, the Solana Beach City Council unanimously approved a California Coastal Commission-sanctioned, seawall-mitigating fee at a Nov. 13 public hearing.
The resulting fee is about double what the city initially proposed.
The public recreation impact fee is intended to compensate for beach space lost due to the construction of bluff-retaining walls.
The fee is determined based on the physical area the seawall usurps (its “footprint”), the erosion rate of the bluffs, and the calculated value of a day at the beach. The latter value is based on a percentage of the wages that would be lost by such a daytrip.
The city has already implemented a sand mitigation fee — which specifically mitigates displacements of sand and is used to help the city pay for sand replenishment and retention.
The city’s fee study, which was published in April 2016, designates the value of a day at the beach at 33 percent of an individual’s wages. When the city submitted its proposed fee to the Coastal Commission as part of an amendment to its Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan, it was met the following year with a suggested beach day valuation of 67 percent.
At the meeting, staff compared hypothetical fees from 2016 for a “typical” 2-foot by 50-foot seawall. The city’s proposed fee for a seawall without the risk of imminent bluff failure would be $21,550, while the Coastal Commission’s suggested fee would be $42,100 for the same wall.
The council was faced with either approving the commission’s suggestion, rejecting it, or stalling and allowing the commission’s approval to lapse. The latter two routes would have risked the possibility that the commission might suggest a larger mitigation fee down the road. The city had already requested a one-year extension from the commission to delay action on the altered fee study in 2017.
The city has been collecting a $1,000 per linear foot interim fee deposit since 2007 — which would have continued had the city not approved the suggestions.
Several of the 11 speakers were bluff-top homeowners who urged the city to reject the commission’s proposed fee rate, commenting that high fees might pose a financial hardship to some homeowners.
Resident Tom Ryan, who has lived at Seascape Shores since the 1970s, said part of the reason he built his seawall was out of a concern for public safety.
“I do think that we provide a service to the public by having our seawall,” Ryan said. “It’s not taken into account, but maybe it should be.”
Two representatives of the Jon Corn Law Firm spoke on behalf of the Beach and Bluff Conservancy, Protect the Beach, Condominium Owners of South Sierra Avenue, as well as several bluff-top homeowners and homeowners associations.
Chandra Slaven, a certified planner with the Cardiff-based law firm, urged the council to reject the Coastal Commission’s suggestion, calling the fee “excessive, arbitrary and capricious,” and a continuation of the commission’s efforts to pursue its “agenda” of managed retreat — a shoreline management option that involves moving the shoreline inland to evade sea-level rise.
“If the Coastal Commission had its way, everyone that lives on the bluff would just abandon their home,” said Ari Spangler, an attorney with the firm.
Longtime resident Jim Jaffee, with the Surfrider Foundation, supported adopting the Coastal Commission’s altered fee.
In a slideshow shared with the council, Jaffee stated that “there really is no discretion in this decision as it is rent.”
“The city owns the bluff,” he said. “… People are using public property for a private purpose, and they have no right to do that.”
An economist, Ryan Bone, said that the commission’s decision to establish the percentage of day use valuation at 67 percent of wages is “conservative,” and does not intuit the cost of driving to the beach, or staying overnight in the area.
After several council members expressed their concern that the Coastal Commission would come back with a higher fee if its initial suggestions were rejected, the council approved the fee.
City Council members also moved to intuit new LiDAR survey data in the fee’s beach area calculations — which will be resubmitted as a new amendment to the city’s Land Use Plan.
Councilwoman Lesa Heebner worried that allowing the Coastal Commission’s approval to lapse would “provide homeowners with only a false belief” that their fee will reflect the city’s 2016 proposal.
Mayor Dave Zito said he is in support of the motion, “as painful as it is.”
“We still potentially have battles ahead,” he said. “ … At least with this, we have something certain.”