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City hopes 6th time is the charm

SOLANA BEACH — Hoping to gain more control over development, the city will seek approval from the California Coastal Commission for its sixth Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan in more than a decade.
Council members made the unanimous decision at a June 29 meeting despite public input that suggested the document needs more work.
A Local Coastal Program (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.
Permit authority to review and approve development in a coastal zone is administered by the Coastal Commission until an LCP is adopted.
Solana Beach, one of only six jurisdictions in the state without an approved LCP, is unique because the entire city is considered a coastal zone.
Solana Beach submitted its first draft in 2001, but the Coastal Commission said it was incomplete. A citizens group formed in 2004 and presented the city with a draft compromise document two years later that became the basis for subsequent plans submitted each year from 2006 to 2009.
The LCP submitted in 2009 was deemed complete in August 2010, although city staff continued to revise the document based on comments received from the commission between March 2010 and January 2011.
City Council approved a final draft this April and it was available for a 60-day public review.
Five comment letters were received.
Some key changes in the current LCP include a provision that permits for new sea walls will be valid for 20 years rather than 75 years, or until 2081, as was the requirement in the 2009 version.
Bluff retention devices will no longer have to be removed, however, residents must reapply for a permit after 20 years. The permits can be renewed if they are required to protect the principal structure.
Additionally, a public recreation impact mitigation fee must be developed by the Coastal Commission and not the city, as was required in the previous plan, since it is considered a statewide issue. However, the city was asked to work collaboratively with the state to develop the fee methodology.
The hundreds of comments received after the close of the public review period supported the views of either Jon Corn or Jim Jaffee, two former members of the citizen’s committee, which disbanded in 2009.
The most contentious issue is sea walls, which are allowed in Solana Beach only under specific circumstances.
Bluff-top property owners say they should have the right to build them to protect their homes. Environmentalists say shoreline protection devices prevent the natural creation of a beach and will eventually eliminate land that belongs to the public.
Corn represents bluff-top property owners, while Jaffee represents the Surfrider Foundation.
Corn said the goal of the citizens group was to “create a document to help the city put to bed these very divisive issues that had been plaguing us and causing litigation.” He said the current LCP “gets pretty close (but) still needs refinement.”
“The 20-year sunset provision is a brutal, unfair and very harsh penalty on bluff-top property owners,” Corn said. “It casts a pall of uncertainty over the oceanfront.
“It really puts a dagger into the heart of the very thing that the citizen’s committee was trying to accomplish,” he said.
“If you give away this community treasure today it will be gone forever,” Surfrider’s Julia Chunn said, adding that despite the outcome, someone will be upset — either current homeowners or future beachgoers.
“The beach was here first,” Chunn said. “We need to think long term.”
Despite requests from both sides to continue working on the document, council members opted to move forward with a staff recommendation to present the LCP to the Coastal Commission for a hearing at its October meeting.
The commission must approve, deny or force the city to withdraw the document by Nov. 10, 2011.
According to its report, city staff did not recommend revisions to the April draft based on public input because most of the proposed changes were non-substantive and didn’t materially change the document and the proposed policy changes would likely be in conflict with Coastal Commission staff recommendations and suggested modifications.
“I think we have something good headed to the Coastal Commission,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said. “This is a very significant step.”
“We’ve taken the best shot that we can based upon conversations with Coastal (and) our understanding of the issues to present an LCP that we feel can be certified so we can move forward,” Councilman Tom Campbell said. “I think this is the right approach.”
“This LCP applies to the whole city,” Councilman Dave Roberts said. “I think it’s really important that we keep the compromise pulled together, we get it to the Coastal Commission, we get a decision one way or another and we bring the authority back home where it belonged in the first place so that we can make those decisions here in Solana Beach.”