Construction on a controversial expansion and renovation project at the Flower Hill Promenade mall will continue for now, despite a stop-work order issued by the California Coastal Commission which carries potential fines of $15,000 per day.
At issue is a territorial dispute between the commission, which regulates development up and down the California coast, and the city of San Diego. Each entity contends it has the authority to approve the $25 million project at the popular shopping center on Via De La Valle east of Interstate 5.
In April, the San Diego City Council unanimously approved the project, and construction began in July. However, the Coastal Commission contends that it has jurisdiction over the land where the mall sits, and must be the agency to issue a coastal development permit. On Friday, the commission posted a stop-work order at the construction site.
Attorney Robin Madaffer, who represents the mall’s owner, Protea Properties, said the company believes the city has the legal authority to issue the permit, which it has done.
“The work is going on. We’re not going to stop doing what we’re doing in reliance on the coastal permit unless and until we’re told to by a judge,” Madaffer said Monday.
“We’re kind of stuck in the middle between two public agencies claiming jurisdiction,” Madaffer said.
Under state law, the Coastal Commission is charged with planning and regulating development in the state’s coastal zone, in partnership with coastal cities and counties.
The Flower Hill Promenade is included in the coastal zone because it is located within the watershed of the San Dieguito River Valley, said Deborah Lee, manager of the Coastal Commission’s San Diego district.
The Coastal Commission retains the authority to issue coastal development permits within the coastal zone until it certifies a local coastal program for a specific area. At that point, the commission delegates permit authority to the city or county where the local coastal program has been certified.
The commission believes the property where Flower Hill Promenade sits is not part of the city’s certified local coastal program, said Lee. Therefore, “we never delegated coastal development permit authority to the city” for the parcel, she said.
Both the mall’s owner and the city disagree.
“The coastal commission does not have direct permit jurisdiction over the project,” the city wrote to the commission last year.
“Our position has not changed,” on the jurisdiction issue, said Kelly Broughton, the city’s development services director, on Tuesday.
And a spokeswoman for Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, whose council District 1 includes the mall, said her boss specifically asked city officials about the jurisdictional issue during the council hearing in April.
“Sherri asked during the hearing if it was in our jurisdiction and was told by the city attorney and mayor’s office in no uncertain terms that it was in our jurisdiction and our purview,” said Lightner spokeswoman Jennifer Davies.
“Under the law, the boundaries of the City and Coastal Commission jurisdictions are shown on Map No. C-730-1. This Map has been relied upon for over 20 years to determine the locations of the City and Coastal Commission jurisdictions. According to the City’s Development Services Department, the Map shows the Flower Hill property within the City’s jurisdictional area,” wrote a spokeswoman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith in an email.