Solana Beach delays implementation of new seawall fee

Solana Beach decided Nov. 8 to postpone for a year the adoption of a recreation impact fee to be charged for seawall permits, so the city can consider new modifications suggested by the California Coastal Commission.

“We want more vetting on this new scientific information that they’ve added,” Mayor Mike Nichols said Wednesday, Nov. 8, before the vote.

The city has been collecting an interim fee of $1,000 per foot for seawall permits since 2008 and will continue to collect the money while it works out the details of a complicated formula for how much it should be, based on the amount of sand on the beach, the speed of erosion, the estimated wages of people who visit the beach and other factors.

The fee is intended to compensate the public for recreational opportunities lost to the construction of seawalls, which cover part of the beach and hasten its erosion.

Revenue from the fee would go toward efforts to improve access to the beach with things such as stairways and parking lots, or to increase the size of the beach through programs such as sand replenishment.

The city’s proposed formula for calculating the fee works out to $431 per foot in 2016, rising annually to $610 per foot in 2026. The Coastal Commission’s suggested modifications would almost double the fee, making it $721 per foot in 2016, rising to $1,192 per foot in 2026.

In all, the Coastal Commission suggested 16 modifications to the city’s fee program, according to a city staff report. City officials agreed to adopt most of them, but balked at a proposed increase in the estimated value of beachgoers’ time based on 67 percent of average wages instead of the 33 percent used in the city’s formula for the recreation impact fee.

“I don’t like any of the fees,” said Councilwoman Ginger Marshall. “We need to maintain local control.”

However, she agreed to the one-year extension and said the city should keep working on the fee calculation.

Fees charged for seawalls are an attempt to balance the needs of private property owners and the rights of the public to access the beach, Nichols said.

“Bluff-top owners would say zero,” he said. “We say 33 percent and the Coastal Commission says 67 percent.”

Bluff-top homeowner David Winkler asked the council to reject the suggested increase in the fee, saying the commission’s calculations are based on statewide statistics.

“When we look at the recreation fee in Solana Beach, it ought to be particular to our town,” Winkler said.

Property owners also pay a separate sand mitigation fee for seawall permits. That fee is based primarily on a calculation of how much sand on the beach would be lost because of the construction of the seawall.

Solana Beach is one of the first cities to explore the recreation fee issue because it is the only coastal city in San Diego County without a Local Coastal Program (LCP), which is a document that allows the city to decide planning and development issues that otherwise would go to the Coastal Commission.

The council also decided at its Nov. 1 meeting to pursue a separate LCP for Solana Beach’s non-bluff neighborhoods while the city tries to resolve the decade-old dispute over the fee.

“We can work through some of these issues and allow the other 95 percent of the population to move on and not have to deal with Coastal when they do things such as a room addition or something like that, which they have to do now,” Nichols said. “This has really held up the entire city.”

The recreation fee is a relatively new requirement of the Coastal Commission to be included in the LCP. Other cities with LCPs approved years ago were not required to have one.

Solana Beach’s efforts to get an LCP approved have been frustrated for years by a number of issues, but primarily things related to seawalls.

— Phil Diehl is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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