After 13 years, Solana Beach approves coastal plan despite ongoing lawsuit, disagreements

By Claire Harlin

After more than two hours of discussion and public testimony, the Solana Beach City Council on Feb. 27 approved a contentious coastal land use plan that’s been in the works for 13 years, but the issue is far from over.

Although there’s still a lawsuit on the books fighting the Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan (LUP), which has been passed back and forth between the city and California Coastal Commission (CCC) seven times, the council majority deemed it important to move forward with the approval and then submit to the CCC in about six months an amendment the city’s already working on.

Tom Campbell, the only dissenting member of the council, said he can’t support approving the document without knowing what future amendments could be, especially since the CCC hasn’t officially indicated it will approve a possible amendment that would seek to resolve ongoing disagreements with homeowners and environmentalists.

“I can’t make that leap of faith,” said Campbell. “I just can’t do it. Why? I’ve sat up here for 18 years and I’ve seen how they play the game … If the CCC really wants to work with us and come up with language that we both agree on, but they are not willing to say that publicly, then there is something really wrong with the process.”

Mayor Mike Nichols said he is willing to take that leap of faith, not only because the CCC seems to be cooperative, but because the momentum has been strong and positive.

“I’d like to see that momentum continue,” he said, adding that the ongoing lawsuit brought by homeowners and the escalating frustration on both sides puts the city in a particularly tough position. He said approving the plan locks in the more-than-a-decade of work the city has done and “doesn’t leave us open-ended.”

Solana Beach is the only city in the county to not have an LUP in place, and the issue is particularly heated in part because of the city’s eroding bluffs, which the state and environmentalists want to preserve by limiting development and seawalls. Meanwhile, blufftop property owners fear losing their valuable homes and contend that restricting development is akin to the state’s taking of their property.

The CCC approved the draft LUP in March but then added more than 150 amendments in June — prompting two property owner groups to sue the state entity. The city then circulated the draft in October, opening up a public comment period that culminated in late November.

The city then held a public hearing in December, and since then has had more than 10 working sessions and phone conferences with state officials and local homeowner and environmental stakeholders.

During that time, significant progress has been made and areas of discussion have become more focused, said Solana Beach officials.

The city has also already proposed a “work-in-progress” list of new changes to the LUP that could be considered as amendments after the city undergoes a public comment period, and some changes could be made at the implementation stage — this process of creating the Local Implementation Plan (LIP) is yet to come. Proposed changes were released on Feb. 25, and the CCC is still reviewing the list.