Fate of Seawalls Unresolved: NC Times 9-26-12

Solana Beach and a key state agency will continue negotiating a plan to limit construction along the city’s coastline and restrict homeowners’ ability to keep seawalls aimed at protecting fragile bluffs along the shoreline.

That was the direction the City Council gave to its staff in a meeting late Wednesday, a decision that left neither environmentalists nor homeowners happy.

“We believe they should have just rejected it outright,” said resident Chris Hamilton, who lives near the coast and is chairman of the Beach & Bluff Conservancy, a group made up of several local property owners. “It is a frustrating situation.”

Environmental advocates aren’t exactly celebrating, either. They say seawalls are a blot on the landscape and thwart the natural erosion process that replenishes the beach with sand.

“We’re disappointed, but hopeful,” said Jim Jaffee, co-chairman of the Surfrider Foundation’s Beach Preservation Committee in San Diego.

Cities up and down the coast are closely watching how the debate in Solana Beach is resolved.

At issue are the state Coastal Commission’s changes to the city’s proposed Local Coastal Plan, a compromise that took several years to craft. Among the changes are rules saying that owners of bluff-top property have to reapply every 20 years for permits allowing them to keep the seawalls lining the beach below.

Property owners also would be forced to pay additional fees for the seawalls to make up for what environmentalists say is a loss of access to the shoreline, access that is restricted through an ever-shrinking beach.

The city’s plan called for permits to last 75 years. At the end of that time, the seawalls would come down, bluffs would collapse and beaches would get a new stockpile of sand.

One of the more controversial changes restricts the remodeling or rebuilding of homes along the coast. No substantial modifications can be done on homes west of a so-called “geological setback line” —- a boundary that has been moved farther inland.

After a lengthy debate, a divided council late Wednesday opted to continue working with Coastal Commission staff in trying to tweak the language in their plans to resolve their differences.

Councilman Thomas Campbell and Mayor Joe Kellejian wanted to reject the commission’s plan flat-out.

“I’ve been working on this a long time, a long time,” Campbell said near the end of the meeting. “I don’t trust trust them. I just don’t trust them… I have sincere doubts we’re going to make progress.”

Councilman Dave Roberts was more optimistic.”We are 95 percent on the way to a solution,” he said. “I just hope we can quickly get this to a resolution.”

Councilwoman Lesa Heebner went one better than Roberts, saying the city and Coastal Commission were “96 percent” of the way to an agreement.

Part of the majority’s thinking was that had the council rejected the Coastal Commission’s changes outright, it would have to resubmit a new plan, in essence starting the yearslong process from scratch.

The next step? The city changes the language in some areas and seeks public comment on its changes. Then it would submit the new language to the Coastal Commission for review. Until then, the city’s current land use plan remains in effect.

“It was probably the best possible outcome considering the views of a couple of the council members,” said Surfrider’s Julia Chunn-Heer.

Contact staff writer David Ogul at 760-901-4067