Laguna Beach Setbacks Appeal


April 1, 2019

The City of Laguna Beach had approved a permit for a 1600 square-foot addition and remodel of a blufftop home with additional structures, grading and landscaping; the proposed renovations would have expanded the floor area beyond an additional 50-percent, making it a major remodel. The project came before the Commission on appeal, with staff recommending denial. Staff explained that the proposed project would not conform with the City’s Land Use Element (LUE) which specifies a minimum 25-foot setback from the bluff edge – this development would actually be sited seaward of the bluff edge, on the bluff face, in direct conflict with the LUE. The applicant spent an inordinate amount of time disputing Coastal Commission staff’s definition of the bluff edge to, ultimately, no avail.

The existing home already does not conform to modern oceanfront bluff edge setbacks, and the Commission found that the City-approved addition would also increase the size and degree of nonconformity, which is prohibited under the Coastal Act. By denying this proposal, Commissioners affirmed that major improvements, beyond repair and maintenance, may not increase degree of nonconformity. Commissioners denied the proposed remodel in a 7-2 vote.

Why You Should Care

As proposed, the project would have set a negative precedent by allowing new development on a bluff face that requires hard armoring to assure geologic stability, contrary to numerous policies in the certified LCP for Laguna Beach. As sea levels rise, new development and perpetuation of non-conforming development that results in more hard armoring will increase beach loss and greatly impact public resources.


Pro-Coast Vote

Anti-Coast Vote

Commissioner Mary Luévano expressed unease. “If we go in one direction we begin a sea change in the way we develop or don’t along the coast,” she said, adding that we need to err on the side of caution in protecting public resources. Commissioner Luéveno motioned to deny the proposal. Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh agreed, pointing out that the proposed development is in direct conflict with several of the City’s Local Coastal Program policies. Commissioner Mark Vargas pondered how this might translate into managed retreat in Laguna Beach, noting that neighboring homes in may not be able to do any further major development.

Organizations Opposed

Mark Fudge - Appellant

Decision Type

De Novo

Staff Recommendation


Coastal Act Policy