Land use plan approval brings Solana Beach a step closer to independence in development decisions

By Claire Harlin

The City of Solana Beach has been working for more than a decade on a Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan (LUP) that will set the standard in steering development in the city, and city officials have finally crafted a document that meets the state’s approval — with a hefty list of modifications.

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) voted unanimously on March 7 to approve the LUP, which, once implemented, will keep most development proposals from having to go through the state for approval. This will not only speed up the process, but it may minimize complication because local and state guidelines often differ.

The LUP must still go to the Solana Beach City Council for final approval, and then the city will develop a Local Implementation Policy, which city manager David Ott said could take 12 to 18 months.

The LUP approval came after nearly four hours of deliberation, and the city went back and forth with the CCC on a few prominent issues.

One involved a modification suggested by the CCC to allow vacation rentals of one day to 30 days in the city’s residentially zoned areas. In a March 5 letter to the CCC, the city wrote that it has “clearly and repeatedly stated it cannot support short-term vacation rentals less than seven days in length because it would create a significant adverse impact on the existing quality of life in the city’s residential neighborhoods by creating a hotel-type atmosphere.”

The CCC later agreed to keep the seven-day minimum, which has been in place since 2003.

Despite the city’s concern about disincentivizing development, the CCC did, however, include a $30,000 per-room fee on developers who decide to close hotels to convert them into other businesses. Solana Beach has only three hotels and, in accordance with the number of rooms in those establishments, this could result in at least $2.4 million in penalties for each in the case that they were shut down for reasons unrelated to market conditions.

Seawalls were another point of contention in creating the LUP. Many blufftop homes in Solana Beach have sea walls, which protect homes but can hinder natural erosion and result in sand shortages on the beach. The commission added a modification to the LUP, stating that the city implement a fee for sea wall owners in addition to the already required fee of $1,000-per-linear foot of sea wall. The city must have a fee in place within 18 months.

Ott said the CCC also added the ability for homeowners to repair existing homes, as opposed to only being able to maintain them, and the commission removed the suggestion that caissons (large, vertical support structures) are the preferred solution to protect homes. Ott said caissons have a tendency to become exposed after some time, and because homes are already so close to the edge of the bluff, it wouldn’t be possible to set them back far enough to look natural from the beach.

Another issue the city had with the LUP deals with Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) and fire management. The city believes its proposed LUP guidelines are more protective of ESHA than the CCC’s, which focus on encroachment of up to 100 feet, often not allowing for further development. The city suggested permitting fire protection methods like fire walls, which would allow for additions to existing homes or construction of new homes while still protecting ESHA. This modification was not accepted by the CCC, however Ott said it still may be revisited in the implementation stages of the plan.