By Joe Tash
In the end, neither side got exactly what it wanted in a plan that will help shape the future of Solana Beach’s coastline.
In seeking to strike a compromise between bluff top homeowners and the Surfrider Foundation, the Solana Beach City Council approved a series of amendments to a land-use plan that regulates coastal development at its meeting on Wednesday, May 22.
“It’s not a make everybody happy-type situation,” observed Mayor Mike Nichols, just before the council voted 4-1 to approve the amended plan. Councilman Tom Campbell cast the lone dissenting vote.
The next step for the amended plan will be a hearing in front of the California Coastal Commission in October, when the panel will decide whether to approve the new regulations. Once the plan is in place, Solana Beach will have greater autonomy in approving development plans within its boundaries, which also fall under Coastal Commission jurisdiction because of the city’s coastal location.
The city began working on its local coastal development plan in 2000, and has so far submitted seven versions of the document to the commission. As it refines the plan, the city also faces a lawsuit filed by coastal homeowners who don’t like some of the plan’s key provisions.
Among the most contentious issues in the plan are its treatment of seawalls, private beach stairways and setbacks, or the distance that homes must be built from the edge of the bluff top.
Speakers on both sides of the issue lined up at the podium Wednesday night to make their case. In addition to their testimony, both sides submitted letters containing suggested revisions to the amendments.
Homeowners don’t like a provision in the plan that requires them to reapply for a permit for their seawalls — built to shore up deteriorating bluffs — after 20 years. City officials said the review determines if the seawall is still needed to protect a home from potential bluff collapse.
Homeowners also said provisions that could require private beach stairways to be converted to public use, and establish setbacks for bluff-top development, amount to a government “taking” of their property.
“Homeowners are forced under these regulations to stand by while their property deteriorates and crashes perilously on the beaches below’” said Pam Richardson, president of the homeowners association for the Seascape Shores condominiums.
Jon Corn, an attorney representing homeowners, who filed a lawsuit in April challenging the policies, urged the council to postpone a decision on the amendments, and to take out the offending provisions regarding seawalls, private stairways and setbacks.
“We’d like to send this back to drawing board for further analysis and consideration, and the three key things need to be deleted. The city cannot afford them and they are bad policy,” Corn said.
However, speakers from the Surfrider Foundation urged the council to move forward, and continue refining the regulations.
“Seawalls impede access to the shoreline,” said Jim Jaffee. “The whole shoreline is on the verge of being seawalled off.”
Jaffee said the city should not allow private property owners to build seawalls on publicly owned bluffs.
“It’s just not right,” he said.
Applications to build seawalls should be weighed against their impacts on beach access, Jaffee said.
Even council members disagreed on the best course of action. Campbell, who also voted against the plan in February, said the Coastal Commission staff dictated the provisions it wanted in the plan and its amendments. He suggested the council send the amendments back to staff, and have them meet with homeowners in an effort to reach agreement on the seawall and staircase issues.
However, other council members said progress is being made, and further changes can occur as the process moves forward.
Once the land-use plan and amendments are approved, the city will work on a local implementation plan, which includes zoning ordinances and maps to put the land-use plan into effect.
“We have made progress and we are headed in the right direction,” said Councilwoman Lesa Heebner.
For example, language has been added to ensure that private stairways will remain so, Heebner said. “It’s not reasonable and feasible to have the public marching through private property to get to the beach, especially when there are public stairways nearby.”
The setback requirement has also been modified from the original 70 to 75 feet, to 40 feet, which allows homeowners to remodel, repair and maintain their property as they choose, Heebner said.
Council members bristled about being named individually in the homeowners’ lawsuit. Even Campbell, who voted against the plan, and City Manager David Ott, who doesn’t have a vote on the council, were named.
In an interview after the meeting, Heebner said, ““In my opinion it’s harassment and brings a personal level to it that is unnecessary.”