September 2020 Hearing Report

Jennifer Savage
September 21, 2020
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The September California Coastal Commission meeting took place virtually from Wednesday, Sept. 9 to Friday, Sept. 11. The Commission deliberated on several items with coastal resource implications including a seawall application in Solana Beach and an appeal regarding a major Santa Cruz residential construction project.

The meeting resulted in one vote chart.

Solana Beach property owners reapply for seawall previously denied

Last year, three property owners in Solana Beach applied jointly for a 150-foot seawall. Two of the property owners were entitled to seawalls as their houses were built prior to the California Coastal Act, but the owner of the parcel in the middle was denied a seawall due to his structure being built after the Coastal Act went into effect. He had also agreed to deed restrictions in the past specifically disallowing future armoring as part of approval of the coastal development permit.

Seawalls for the adjacent homes were approved and are now constructed, but the resultant gap in the armoring presents a structural issue. This issue was predicted and the applicants were instructed to explore a retainer wall strategy to mitigate this. That strategy has been explored and is now rendered unsafe, and the two applicants who gained approval last year returned requesting to fill in the gap with a seawall. However, the property that was denied the seawall (the “gap house”) was no longer on the application, and instead another neighbor was added to the application based on an argument that this third neighbor is also affected by the structural instability posed by the gap.

Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter objected to this, arguing first that the “gap house” owner at 245 Pacific Ave. should have been again included on the application. In fact, Commission staff noted in their report:

"The subject project is essentially a resubmittal of a project that was partially approved by the Commission in March 2019 (CDP #6-18-0288/DeSimone, Schrager, & Jokipii). That project proposed construction of a 150 ft. long seawall fronting three adjacent existing single-family residences located at 235, 241, and 245 Pacific Avenue, and construction of a geogrid bluff retention device below all three homes.”

This led Surfrider to point out that if this project was essentially a resubmittal of the original project that included 245 Pacific Ave, that property should still have been included as an applicant, saying, “It fundamentally defies logic that a seawall be proposed where it will result in the primary protection of a threatened property that is not listed as an applicant, especially given that the property at 245 Pacific Ave was included in the project and explicitly denied a seawall as originally submitted to the city of Solana Beach (the city) and the Commission.”

Surfrider went on to note that the more appropriate response would be requiring removal of the endangered portions of 245 Pacific Ave. to abate the current emergency per the agreed-upon deed restrictions placed on the property by the Coastal Commission.

Commissioners discussed the conundrum at length, ultimately denying the seawall in a 7-5 vote. Commissioner Dayna Bochco voted to approve, saying she was “reluctant and unhappy” to do so, but believed “staff did everything they could” and “seawalls continue to be a terrible problem and I hope more people become aware [of that].”

Commissioner Roberto Uranga voted to deny the seawall, saying it would be “dangerous to approve” the application, emphasizing the need to encourage managed retreat.

Outsized Opal Cliffs residential project appealed

Property owners in Opal Cliffs, a wealthy neighborhood in Santa Cruz, seek to demolish their existing 6,000 square-foot single-story residence and garage, and build a new two-story 6,700 square-foot residence with an additional 1,500 square feet in two garages (creating a 8,200 square-foot residential development), plus a 25-yard lap pool and related development, which would all rely on shoreline armoring for site and structural stability.

Surfrider Foundation, along with Commissioners Linda Escalante and Erik Howell, appealed the project after the County of Santa Cruz approved it. (Friday’s hearing was for substantial issue only.)

In their appeal, Surfrider’s Santa Cruz chapter argued that the proposed house must be sited to be safe for its expected lifetime; the Coastal Act allows shoreline armoring to protect “existing” structures because they were built before the destructive impacts of shoreline armoring were understood. The coastal armoring at 4660 Opal Cliff Dr. is an example of a lack of forethought; it has worsened to severity erosion on either side and already extends so far into the beach that it blocks access from either side. Approving this application without the appropriate setbacks would be contrary to all scientific and official guidance regarding sea level rise and climate change. Further, the project conflicts with the County’s own Land Use Policy (LUP).

The Commission staff and Commissioners agreed substantial issue exists and the project will return to the Commission for a de novo hearing at a later date.