SOLANA BEACH — After being accused of delegating its authority and lacking leadership, City Council voted 4-0 at the Sept. 9 meeting to adopt a revised draft of the city’s Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan and submit the document for certification to the California Coastal Commission for the fifth time since 2001.
Residents, members of a citizens advisory committee and representatives from environmental groups were among the 20 speakers who addressed council during the three-hour hearing. At issue were provisions in the document dealing with sea walls.
Bluff-top property owners said they should have the right to build the structures to protect their homes. Environmentalists said the shoreline protection devices prevent the natural creation of a beach and will eventually eliminate land that belongs to the public.
A Local Coastal Program, or LCP, is the basic planning tool used by a city to guide development in its coastal zone. It is required by the California Coastal Act of 1976 to ensure coastal areas are used and developed according to statewide public objectives. Each LCP contains ground rules for future development and protection of coastal resources. It includes a land-use plan and zoning ordinances to implement that plan.
An approved LCP gives a city more permitting authority over most new coastal development. Solana Beach is unique in that the entire city is considered a coastal zone. It is one of six cities statewide — and the only one in San Diego County — without an approved LCP. That means development permits for all property owners, not just those on the bluff, must receive city and state approval.
A citizens advisory committee of environmentalists and bluff-top property owners has spent years developing a document that includes compromises from both groups. LCPs were submitted in 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Each version was modified to include comments and suggestions from the Coastal Commission and its staff as well as input from the citizens group.
One provision in the document requires that all shoreline protection devices be removed by 2081, while another grants the city first right of refusal to buy bluff-top homes when owners decide to sell. That program would be partially funded by a fee paid by homeowners who construct sea walls.
“Our own city is filing a plan with the state to undermine our property rights and it could lead to us losing our house,” said Diane Garber, a Pacific Avenue homeowner since 1991. “Everyone else in Solana Beach can own their homes in perpetuity but not on the bluff.
“I do recognize that this is a complex problem and that a few radical activists have tied up the city in litigation,” she said. “But none of this was our fault. This is discrimination of our property rights. Why should we foot the bill and lose our homes for the mistakes of others?”
“You’ll hear a lot of bluff-top property owners talk about their property rights,” attorney Marco Gonzales said, speaking on behalf of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation. “But the fact is they bought on an eroding coastline. They’ve had more than enough time to understand that.”
Gonzales said the homes were built on what would eventually be public land if natural erosion were allowed to occur. “I believe, from a public policy standpoint, there is no really good reason to give away public land that would otherwise be supporting the public’s use of the beach to subsidize wealthy bluff-top owners who, quite frankly, in today’s society are more likely to have the ability to afford to move away from what essentially was a bad investment,” he said.
Jon Corn, a land-use attorney and former bluff-top property owner who helped draft the original LCP, acknowledged the difficulty in trying to simultaneously protect the coastline and property rights. “They’re two competing interests that both deserve protection,” he said. “The Coastal Act tries to draw that balance,” he said, but the legislation doesn’t provide a clear set of rules telling people what to do and not to do.
Corn said residents should be allowed to build sea walls as a last resort. “Let’s face it,” he said. “Nobody wants to build a sea wall. But it’s the lesser of evils and the option of last resort for people trying to protect their homes.”
Jim Jaffee, vice president of Cal Beach Advocates and a member of the original citizens committee, provided a list of changes he recommended the city make before presenting the document. But Corn, Gonzalez and David Winkler, also an advisory committee member, said the LCP should be submitted as is.
“There is a counterpoint for every point,” said Winkler, who recently paid the city more than $425,000 to start building a sea wall to protect his home. “How much more input are you going to get that’s going to make a difference?
“We can’t do this forever,” he said. “At some point this council needs to take a leadership position.”
“Send this beast to the Coastal Commission,” Corn said. “We have labored over this document for five years. There is no phrase, word, comma or semicolon that has not been discussed.”
Gonzalez also urged the council to submit the document and let the Coastal Commission dictate the end result. “The process here in the city has failed,” he said. “And when the recommendation comes back, you need to set up a process to simply accept or reject them and stop delegating your authority to the citizens of Solana Beach.”
Sitting in for Mayor Mike Nichols, who was sick, Councilman Tom Campbell disagreed with statements that the council was shirking its responsibility. He said the city has spent more than $1 million, held countless public hearings and been sued trying to create a document that would appease both sides.
When the process began, the council supported the formation of the citizens group because “the likelihood of ever getting an LCP approved that was not a result of a compromise … among the two warring parties … was nil,” he said.
“We let the citizens group fight it out (and) resolve their problems,” Campbell said. “Our mindset was we could only support something if they agreed on it because if we had to make the decision, both sides are going to be unhappy and we’re going to be sued by everybody.”