SOLANA BEACH — The California Coastal Commission disregarded a staff recommendation to deny approval of Solana Beach’s Local Coastal Program and instead voted unanimously at its Nov. 13 meeting to grant a continuance, giving the city until Sept. 20, 2009, to submit a revised plan.
The decision was welcome news for city officials, environmentalists and bluff-top property owners who worked collaboratively for more than a decade to create the document (see sidebar) which, if approved, would give Solana Beach more authority over its coastal development.
“To us it was a home run,” Mayor Dave Roberts said. “We’re just thrilled that we got that turned around. We see it as a great victory for our city. Now we’ve got more of a sense of things we need to work on.”
“Since 1992, our city and its residents have been working on developing and refining policies to manage our coastal resources,” Councilman Tom Campbell told the commission at the 8 a.m. meeting in Long Beach.
“In 2001, we submitted a draft LCP,” he said. “It was returned to us with many, many comments. It created a lot of controversy and concerns in our community. As a result of that we determined we needed to do an (environmental impact report) to study the bluff and beach policy issues up and down our coastline.
“We got nowhere,” Campbell said. “The environmental groups wanted one thing. The property groups wanted another thing. We were really caught in the middle. We were being sued. Our biggest concern here is if this doesn’t move forward, our coalition is going to fall apart and we’re going to end up nowhere.”
Seven years and more than $1.5 million later, the city submitted its final plan, which the commission’s staff report described as “problematic,” “misleading” and “counter to the more conservative resource protection mandates of the Coastal Act.”
Roberts disagreed. “With all due respect, the staff report I heard this morning has many inaccuracies,” he said. “We believe our proposal … not only meets, but exceeds, the Coastal Act.”
The commission and several environmentalists commended Solana Beach for an element in its plan that would eliminate all sea walls by 2081. Residential units sit on every lot but one along the 1.7-mile coastline. All are 20 feet or less from the edge of the fragile bluffs. The plan gives the city first right of refusal to buy bluff-top homes when owners decide to sell. That program is partially funded by a fee paid by homeowners who construct sea walls to protect their property.
“The homeowners did build way too close to the bluff,” Todd Cardiff of the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation said. “Surfrider isn’t happy about the situation but we’re also supporting this effort. We’ve got to find a way forward here.”
Jim Jaffee, co-founder of Cal Beach Advocates, a California-based environmental group that opposes construction of new sea walls, called the plan “innovative.”
“I’ve been before you fighting against sea walls, one sea wall at a time,” Jaffee told the commissioners. “This is the first attempt to try to eliminate sea walls and eliminate coastal development that’s built in the wrong place. … That’s what got me on board with this program.”
David Winkler, a bluff-top property owner who is on the citizens committee, said reaching a compromise to develop the LCP was no easy task.
“I had to twist a lot of arms,” he said. “This compromise doesn’t give either the beach homeowners or the environmental groups everything they would want. Overall we think it gives both sides most of what they want and provides a framework to move forward. It would be tragic if the Coastal Commission were to deny this compromise.”
Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club’s California Coastal Program, said the financing program “is a very good idea,” but he described it as “unfinished” and “inadequate to do the job.”
“The plan allows for the armoring of the rest of the entire city today with the hope and basically the promise and a prayer that sea walls will be removed in 2081,” Massara said. “Commissioners, we’ll all be dead.
“The thought that people are willingly going to remove these sea walls is, well, improbable,” Massara said. “On the other hand, this fund to buy shoreline homes … is the best reality-based shoreline goal we have going in California.”
Massara also said the fees must be realistic, sufficient and “most critical to ensuring this fund is successful is that it must never, ever, ever be allowed to be diverted in any way, shape or form, especially to buying sand to throw in front of these sea walls.”
While comments and discussion focused mainly on shoreline and bluff management — and sea walls in particular — commissioners said the plan also lacked specifics in several other areas, including parking standards, brush management, visitor-serving uses, protection of nesting birds and identification of an environmentally sensitive habitat area.
“There’s a lot of deficiencies in this (land use plan) that go beyond the shoreline issue,” Commissioner Sara Wan said. “Compromise is great. But whatever the compromise that is reached, (it) has to still be consistent with the Coastal Act policies. … I think it’s incumbent upon the city to go back and do that and not expect our staff to write your LCP for you.”