Solana Beach City Council to continue working with California Coastal Commission on land use plan


By Kathy Day

It looks like the debate over rules governing land use in Solana Beach that started more than a decade ago will continue for at least a couple more months.

And despite efforts by the city staff to negotiate modifications with California Coastal Commission staff and a 3-2 vote on Sept. 26 to continue working with them, most everyone agreed it’s likely the current draft of the Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan (LUP) will be rejected.

Councilman Mike Nichols, who voted to extend talks, said, “I think we will have to reject (the plan) but tonight’s not the night.”

The result didn’t please representatives of the Surfrider Foundation, including Jim Jaffee of its Beach Preservation Committee, who said the next day that he’s “disappointed but hopeful. They need to adopt this. … They have allowed the homeowners to hijack the process.”

The action didn’t please the other side either. Attorney Jon Corn of the Beach and Bluff Conservancy (BBC) and the Condominium Owners of South Sierra Avenue (COOSSA), said he wished the council would have rejected the document outright.

But, he added, he was pleased council members also voiced concerns about the plan and surprise and anger at how they had been treated by the Coastal Commission, which added a number of new conditions to the plan the council had adopted in June 2011.

At the center of the debate are the sections setting rules for seawalls and blufftop development. Of particular concern are property line setbacks, trigger dates, use of the mitigation fees and what would happen if a home was destroyed by a disaster. (See Box)

A crowd of more than 100 residents and their supporters overflowed the council chambers during the meeting, with some moving into an adjoining room and the lobby when sheriff’s deputies and a fire marshal saw the large crowd.

It included the yellow-shirted supporters of the BBC and COOSSA, who wanted the council to reject the document they’ve been working on for more than a decade. Emphasizing the rules they say would constitute “a taking” of private property along the coastal blufftops, they contend the document subverts the California Coastal Act, takes away local control and threatens local tax revenues.

One resident, Daniel Powell, told the council that the alternate plan “gutted our local effort” and asked them what would happen to the city’s tax revenues when the homes are gone.

“You must not let the Coastal Commission push you around,” he said. “Tell the Coastal Commission to go pound sand.”

The other side – the blue-shirted ‘Dude, Where’s My Beach’ crowd supported by the Surfrider Foundation – wanted the document approved, saying they believe the changes worked out over the past decade are in the best interests of people who use the beach and support the local economy.

Jaffee told the council it was important to approve the plan so homeowners outside the bluff zone could stop having to go through both the city and coastal commission to get permits. He also said approval would mean a fee structure would be set for seawall mitigation fees that could be used for sand and access improvements. At this point, they are only required to pay a deposit but not a fee.

He and Julia Chun urged the council to adopt the plan and seek modifications as amendments.

The council once thought the matter had been resolved when they approved a plan in June 2011. But when the California Coastal Commission returned with a list of 143 modifications in September 2011 and another 10 in March 2012, tempers flared again.

After the Coastal Commission rejected the city’s proposal in March, the blufftop homeowners group and an individual homeowner, Joseph S. Steinberg, sued the Coastal Commission. If the council had approved the document on Tuesday, attorney Marco Gonzalez of the Coastal Environmental Rights Coalition warned them the city would be added to the filing.

Because of the lawsuit, Solana Beach officials received an extension so they could try and reach compromises with the commission’s staff.

Since then, the BCC and the condominium owners of South Sierra Avenue – representing a total of 893 condominium units – in June submitted a list of 18 items and suggested modifications.

On Sept. 21, City Manager Dave Ott and several other city staff members met with Coastal Commission staff to go over the suggestions.

“There was movement by Coastal Commission staff,” he told the council as he shared details on some of the talks.

After each side was given 25 minutes to present their arguments and another five minutes for rebuttal, council members debated whether continuing to work with the commission staff was worth the effort. In the end, on the split vote, they agreed they would try.

Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Dave Roberts also voted for the extension, noting that if the plan was rejected property owners would be left in limbo and not be able to process any permits while a new document was developed.

Councilman Tom Campbell, who voted against the motion along with Mayor Joe Kellejian, reiterated a comment by one of the BBC speakers who had noted “we’re 95 percent of the way there” but added there are “some things I cannot support.”

He also said he wanted to end meetings of the ad hoc committee working on the LUP, adding he would resign his spot if it continued. Nichols volunteered to take his spot.

Kellejian and Campbell also expressed distrust in the Coastal Commissioners.

Having represented Solana Beach on numerous coastal committees through the years, the mayor said, “I don’t have confidence that we will get to an end where we would like to be.”

Modifications wanted

The Beach and Bluff Conservancy is seeking 18 modifications in the Solana Beach Land Use Plan. Among them are the following:

•Use the word “minimize” instead of “avoid” in references to impacts to public access and recreational needs as well as in reference to the size of bluff retention devices on the beach

• Delete a requirement to prove that it is not feasible to move the building footprint and foundation inland when mid or upper bluff repairs are made.

• If a home is damaged by disaster and meets certain criteria, the homeowner has the same rights to blufftop retention devices as the destroyed structure.

• Allow use of mitigation fees for restoring sand as well as improving public beach access.

• Interior non-bearing walls should not be include in the definition of a “minor addition” that permits changes to only 50 percent or less of a structure.

• Change “geological setback line” language.

• Delete a provision that would make a permit for upper bluff protection valid for only 20 years.

• Change language regarding when the permit takes effect for construction of a beach seawall or seacave/notch infills.