CARLSBAD: Commission agrees to allow seawall to remain

Proponents argue project provides public safety, opponents say it will forever alter the beach

By BARBARA HENRY – | Posted: April 7, 2010 11:37 pm

After hearing emotion-packed presentations from attorneys on both sides of the issue, a majority of Carlsbad’s Planning Commission agreed Wednesday to allow a controversial seawall to remain in place at the southern end of the Terramar beachfront community.

Before the vote, an attorney for the homeowners who built the wall argued that the 97-foot-long structure was a public safety measure. It will prevent people on the beach from being killed by sudden bluff collapses, said attorney Jonathan Corn, and he mentioned recent deaths in the region caused by seaside bluff collapses.

Todd Cardiff, a coastal environmental attorney who opposes the wall, said that was a highly unusual justification for a seawall project, perhaps the first of its kind in the state. Bluff-top homeowners get permission to build seawalls because their homes are in immediate danger of falling off a cliff, not because the cliffs are a danger to beachgoers below, he said. He argued that the new structure will eventually alter beach conditions so much that the public will eventually have no beach to walk on below the bluffs.

The wall, which varies from 17 to 24 feet high in places, was constructed last summer just north of the public access staircase near Cerezo Drive’s intersection with Carlsbad Boulevard. The two homeowners who paid for the $750,000 project received special emergency permission from the city last spring to build the seawall after two sudden bluff collapses occurred in the area. One of those collapses caused about 225 to 250 tons of material to fall on the beach, homeowner Dean Goetz said.

At Wednesday’s commission meeting, he sought approval for two permits that would allow the seawall to remain as a permanent structure.

The commission’s vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Bill Dominguez opposed and Commissioners Marty Montgomery and Michael Schumacher absent. The four commissioners who voted in favor of granting the permits mentioned both public safety and bluff conditions north of the new wall as reasons for their decision.

“I don’t have any problem at all approving this … it really is a major public safety issue,” Commissioner Hap L’Heureux said, commenting that the public staircase invites people into an area where people are likely to end up right next to bluffs.

L’Heureux, who also an attorney, said that if someone had been killed in the area before the property owners built their wall last year, “everybody would be up in arms” about that and the property owners would likely face lawsuits.

Commissioner Julie Baker said that homeowners to the north of the new seawall already have bluff protection measures in place, so she didn’t have a problem granting permission for the seawall project.

Dominguez said he struggled over the issue. One of the people who spoke in opposition to the project was his brother, a former lifeguard who said he thought the project applicants won initial permission for their construction work on the basis of a “phony emergency.”

Before he cast his vote, Dominguez said that he didn’t approve of the way the city had handled the situation himself, saying the project should have gone through a full-scale environmental review. He added that Carlsbad doesn’t have a comprehensive plan for handing bluff erosion issues and it needs one.

Call staff writer Barbara Henry at 760-901-4072.

Posted in Carlsbad on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 11:37 pm Updated: 10:10 am. | Tags: Top, Carlsbad, Coastal, Nct, News, City Government, Beaches,