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Council finally adopts coastal program land use plan

SOLANA BEACH — Council members finally adopted a Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan with a 4-1 vote at the Feb. 27 meeting, a decision they said they would make, but didn’t, in September, December and February. 

The move puts Solana Beach another step closer to having more control over development in the city, but it was one Councilman Tom Campbell couldn’t support.

His colleagues adopted the document with the caveat that ongoing changes being made would be submitted later as an amendment to be approved “at a time certain (California Coastal) Commission date.”

Campbell said he couldn’t approve the LUP without knowing what the amendments are.

He also cited a lack of commitment from the commission and its staff to continue working with the city and stakeholders on the changes once the document was adopted, as well as any guarantee the amendments would be approved.

“We’ve been dealing with delays, delays, delays from these folks for years,” Campbell said. “Can we really count on (them) to do what they say they will do?”

That concern was confirmed in a letter to the city from Commissioner Sherilyn Sarb.

“Given the nature of the public hearing process … it is not possible to guarantee any time certain for future Commission action,” she wrote.

However, in the letter, Sarb also reaffirmed her “staff’s commitment to continue to work” with city staff on revisions.

An LCP, which regulates development in the coastal zone, 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 an LUP, or ground rules for future development and protection of coastal resources. Solana Beach is unique in that the entire city, including the area east of Interstate 5, is considered the coastal zone.

It is one of a handful of cities statewide — and the only one in San Diego County — without an approved LCP.

Solana Beach has been actively working to prepare an LCP since 2000, although the city’s first mayor said the process started more than a decade earlier.

Six drafts submitted to the Coastal Commission between 2001 and 2011 were sent back to the city with suggested modifications, most of which have been incorporated. During that time a citizens group was formed to address resident concerns, including sea wall permits.

Bluff-top property owners say they should have the right to build and maintain the structures to protect their homes. Environmentalists say the shoreline protection devices prevent the natural creation of a beach and will eventually eliminate land that belongs to the public.

Other issues include beach access stairs, redevelopment of bluff-top homes and the geological setback line, a point where experts have determined the bluffs would be stable for 75 years.

Shortly after the process began, Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit against the city but dropped it to work through the issues.

In May 2012 two lawsuits from bluff-top property owners were filed in response to an LCP LUP approved by the commission last year that has since been modified.

No hearing has been set in either case.

Through the years of negotiations, both sides have made compromises that are included in the most recent version of the document. By the middle of 2012 they were down to 18 issues that needed resolution. Those have been narrowed to four or five in the past few months.

At the Feb. 27 meeting, representatives clearly noted the action they wanted council to take.

Representing Surfrider, resident Jim Jaffee said he would no longer be involved in negotiations if council didn’t adopt the LUP presented, which was released for a public review period that ended this past December.

“We’ve sacrificed,” Jaffee said. “We’ve done what you asked. … The party that has lost the most is us.

“If the scope is not narrowed, we’re not going to be at the table,” he said. “It’s over as far as I’m concerned.”

Bluff-top property owners, represented primarily by resident David Winkler, urged council members to take no action, let the stakeholders continue negotiations to work through the remaining issues and then release the changes for a six-week public review.

Many saw that option as a rejection, which would mean the city would have to start the process all over again, placing it at the back of the line, so to speak, with the Coastal Commission.

“I think that’s the biggest mistake we could make, to start over,” Mayor Mike Nichols said, noting there is more value in having both sides represented while working on the amendments.

“I think there’s going to be threats of lawsuits no matter what we do,” he said.

Winkler said he is disappointed with the outcome, especially because amendments can take nearly a decade to be approved by the commission.

“Meanwhile, we’ll have language on the books in Solana Beach that is acknowledged to have flaws by everyone engaged in the discussions, including city staff, Coastal Commission staff and the stakeholders,” Winkler said. “It’s unfortunate that language that would have corrected that problem was not resolved before approval.”

As adopted, Winkler likened the document to the foundation of a home, saying one wouldn’t build the house if that foundation wasn’t solid.

“But hopefully we’ll get through this,” he said. “I think it went down the wrong way. A lot of leverage was lost as a result of approving a faulty document.

“Much of the incentive has been taken away from the parties to get this done,” he said. “But I’m still hopeful the LUP will be amended in a timely fashion and I will work to make that happen.”

Solana Beach had until Sept. 7 to submit the document. The goal is to have it approved by the commission at its October meeting in San Diego.