CARLSBAD — A burgeoning environmental group recently called into question the city’s process of approving the construction of a seawall.
The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation threatened the city with litigation to ensure a full Environmental Impact Report is prepared on an existing seawall, claiming violations of the applicant’s emergency seawall permit.
The emergency permit for the construction of a 97-foot-by-24-to-32-foot-tall seawall along the coastal bluff below two residences at 5323 and 5327 Carlsbad Blvd. was granted on April 16, 2009, after two bluff failures occurred at the site in December 2008.
The popular Terramar beach is located in southern Carlsbad. Property owner Dean Goetz claimed the seawall was necessary to prevent further bluff failures below his and a neighboring residence.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the seawall, without requiring mitigation for the loss of public beach use or an assessment of environmental impacts. This step is crucial according to Attorney Livia Borak, who represents the group along with others at the Encinitas-based Coast Law Group.
“The city should have done a full analysis on the impact of the seawall,” she said. Instead, the city has claimed that emergency conditions existed at the time of issuance and that all applicable state regulations under the California Environmental Quality Act could be put on hold until after the seawall construction was complete.
Goetz failed to meet the conditions of the first emergency permit and was granted a second chance June 10. The seawall was completed in September 2009 according to City Planner Van Lynch. He said the permit was issued “in order to prevent loss of life” from another possible bluff failure.
In a letter to the city, the group questioned claims that a true emergency existed. The fact that Goetz let the permit issued in April expire, four months after the bluff failure, and that construction on the seawall did not begin until June the following year raises questions, Borak said.
“It’s no secret that coastal erosion exists and that there is going to be bluff failure,” she said. “Cities should be acting proactively, planning and looking at coastal areas in order to protect coastline.”
Now the staff is completing a negative declaration — a document that finds no mitigation measures are necessary to make up for the impact of the seawall. “This is completely inadequate,” Borak said. “Coastal erosion is happening, so there’s some amount of forecasting that can be done.”
The relative lack of seawalls is worth noting according to city staff. “These are far and few issuances (of emergency permits) in Carlsbad,” Lynch said.
“I don’t anticipate having another seawall based on a vertical bluff condition.”
The Goetz seawall project, which cost an estimated $500,000 to construct, was continued to a date uncertain according to Lynch. Without a complete analysis and mitigation measures, the group informed the city that the project would be appealed to the state’s Coastal Commission. Coastal development projects are subject to final approval by the commission.
Borak pointed to the city of Solana Beach as a model of how to change the process for issuing seawall permits. “The city was issuing several emergency basis permits with no time for analysis using post hoc rationalizations for why they did so,” Borak said. “Now the city has a plan in place, including mitigation efforts.”
“The bottom line is they can’t rely on the emergency finding anymore,” Borak said. “We’re putting cities on notice that this type of thing isn’t going to fly anymore.”