Groups call for more clarification on Solana Beach’s coastal plan

By Claire Harlin

Every city in San Diego County has an approved Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan (LUP) to guide future development — that is, except for Solana Beach.

Despite submitting six different drafts to the California Coastal Commission (CCC), the city’s LUP is still in limbo mainly due to clashes between land owners and environmentalists, and until Nov. 26 at 1 p.m., the public has a chance to provide input regarding the current revision on the table. The draft and public comments will be up for discussion at a City Council hearing in early December, in which the council will vote on what to send the CCC for approval.

“It’s time for people to read it and understand it and if they have concerns put it in writing for the record,” said Jon Corn, an attorney representing the Beach and Bluff Conservancy (BBC) and Condominium Owners of South Sierra Avenue (COOSA) in a lawsuit against the Coastal Commission. The suit was brought after the Solana Beach City Council approved the LUP last June, but the CCC returned the draft with 143 modifications in September and another 10 in March, enraging homeowners. Those bringing the suit also threatened to add the city to the filing had it decided to approve the document in September instead of making the revisions that are out for review.

Jim Jaffee of the Surfrider Foundation’s Beach Preservation Committee said, however, that the litigation has already been filed and the smartest thing for the city to do would have been to adopt the plan and file amendments if changes are needed. He said if the CCC rejects it, they would have the protection of the Attorney General’s office instead of having to go to war with the homeowners, who fear the plan jeopardizes the future and value of their properties.

Jaffee also said that the LUP can be further clarified if needed during the drafting of the Local Implementation Plan (LIP), which details how the LUP is executed and implemented.

“Any delay is good for the blufftop owners and bad for the rest of the community,” he said, adding that hiring of well-known political consultant Tom Shepard indicates the blufftop owners may be trying to launch a “PR campaign that preys on emotion rather than protecting the coast.”

He said the revised language of the LUP could be interpreted to allow a remodel of a blufftop home with a seawall every five years — a “perpetual remodel,” he called it — when the intention of the CCC is to require that no new development require a seawall. This begs the question of whether a remodel is considered new development, he said.

“If you continue to have a seawall forever, eventually you will have no beach,” he said.

Corn is also not completely happy with the current revisions.

“Some are excellent and exactly correct,” he said. “Others we think that are needed for the benefit of the city are not there.”

Unlike Jaffee in his thinking that the city should save itself possible litigation fees by relying on amendments and clarification later if needed, Corn said the LUP must be clearly written and precise or else it “defeats the purpose.”

“There’s been enough acrimony over this,” he said. “The city needs to put an end to that and have really clear policies.”

One revision the city made could put the bluff edge setback — the point at which construction is not allowed — closer to the edge of the bluff giving homeowners more control over their properties, however, Corn said the language is not clear enough.

“In the rewrite, they say, ‘in some cases,’” he said. “It’s somewhat confusing.”

He compared the LUP to imminent domain in that it’s “regulatory taking.”

“By passing regulations that are so restrictive, the city prohibits the homeowner from using the property how it’s intended and it loses value,” he said.

Jaffee, on the other hand, said “the only taking that’s occurred is the taking of public land for private seawalls.”

Corn has also provided feedback to the city in regard to the LUP’s treatment of stairways to the beach that exist on condo properties. The revisions state that those stairways will be phased out and converted to public use, but Corn objects that “nobody knows what ‘phased out’ means.”

“Not that [the condo owners] don’t want to share, but it’s a safety issue because those stairs are not built to accommodate the public,” he said.

In its revisions, the city added that “public use should be reasonably accommodated,” however, Corn said such language is still unclear and if those condo owners have to share their private stairways the property values will suffer.

Jaffee likewise said the city needs to be more specific in its revisions, because in its current form the LUP “gives uncertainty to the millions who visit these beaches.”

“When are you going to stop madness?” he asked. “When are you going to say we cannot block access to the beach?”