August 2020 Meeting Report

Mandy Sackett
August 17, 2020
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August 2020 Coastal Commission Meeting Report

The August Coastal Commission meeting took place virtually from Wednesday, Aug. 12 to Friday, Aug. 14. The Commission deliberating on several important items with coastal resource implications including a land use plan amendment from the City of San Clemente on the definition of major remodel, a consistency certification by SANDAG for the Del Mar Bluffs Emergency Repair Project and an appeal of a CDP in Encinitas for construction of a new blufftop home. The meeting did not result in any vote charts.

San Clemente Tries to Roll Back Beach Protection Policy, Withdraws After Commissioners Push Back

The Coastal Commission certified the City of San Clemente’s Land Use Plan (LUP) update in August 2018. The City’s proposed LUP amendment before the Commission on Thursday attempted to change the baseline date for calculating cumulative alterations to structures toward determining whether overall development should be considered “new” from January 1, 1977, to August 10, 2018, the date of certification of the most recent LUP update. This change is important because it determines when new development or redevelopment will have to come into conformance with the Coastal Act as well as the City’s setback policies.

The Surfrider Foundation spoke during public comment and urged Commissioners to deny the proposed amendment, arguing that to protect San Clemente’s remaining beaches from sea level rise and coastal hazards, the City must adopt a long-term vision for the restoration of the coastline or face total loss of sandy beaches and the recreational opportunities they provide. San Clemente’s iconic beaches once offered ample opportunity for surfing, beachgoing, fishing and other recreational opportunities, but now face total extinction. The City must include the correct definition for redevelopment in the land use plan. If the 2018 date were adopted, coastal development would be able to rely on shoreline armoring for far longer into the future – a death sentence for the beach and important coastal habitats as sea levels rise.

Several Commissioners agreed with Surfrider that ample policy guidance exists – past precedent and previous decisions that define redevelopment as cumulative development completed after January 1, 1977 above the 50 percent threshold – therefore providing no reason to grant an exception to San Clemente. To do so would set a terrible precedent as local jurisdictions across the state tackle sea level rise planning and are looking at these early examples for guidance on acceptable adaptation policies. Indeed, Commissioner Dayna Bochco stated, “I simply cannot support that we move this date to an arbitrary place because the City wants to.” Commissioners Caryl Hart, Mike Wilson and Sara Aminzadeh all agreed.

In contrast, Commission Chair Steve Padilla had a differing view, repeating several times that previously adopted sea level rise policy guidance was not sufficient to base decisions on and that the Commission should have a set policy or regulation change to codify a policy position on the matter; lacking such, he would support the amendment. Indeed, a clear definition of redevelopment and existing development within the Commission’s regulations would be preferred – as long as that definition doesn’t doom our public coastal resources upon which our state’s coastal economy and vast recreational opportunities rely.

The City of San Clemente, clearly facing denial, withdrew the application in response to the deliberations thus leaving the burden of coastal zone permitting within the City on the Coastal Commission.

Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project

On Wednesday, the Commission heard an application from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) for an after-the-fact consistency certification for two emergency bluff stabilization measures constructed on the Del Mar Bluffs between November 30 and December 15, 2019. On November 28 and 29, a rainstorm event overwhelmed the drainage systems in the North County Transit District’s railroad right-of-way. Drainage inlets were blocked with sediment and vegetation, and storm water runoff overflowed the railroad trackbed causing significant erosion immediately west of the trackbed at the two locations.

Representatives from the Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter commented on the certification, asking the Commission to please keep up the vision and pressure on relocation of the railway. They suggested that the Commission require clear milestones and timelines for working with the community, for monitoring coastal dynamics and for pursuing funding for relocation. Several Commissioners agreed, prompting a lively discussion regarding the need to relocate the railway away from the region’s eroding bluffs, although a specific requirement was not included in the consistency determination.

For more information, see the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapters’ Policy Statement on Blufftop Track Relocation in Del Mar.

New Blufftop Home Appeal in Encinitas

On Thursday, the Commission found substantial issue with an appeal by Commissioners Donne Brownsey, Caryl Hart and the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter. The proposed project consists of demolition of two existing homes and construction of a new 7,800+ sq. ft blufftop home. In the City’s permit, existing riprap at the base of the bluff below the proposed residence would remain; there is no evidence that the riprap was placed under a permit by the City of Encinitas, the County of San Diego, or by the Coastal Commission. The proposal also raises concerns due to insufficient setback from the bluff edge.