Homeowners must pay for sea walls, cave fill-in
By Angela Lau

June 15, 2007

SOLANA BEACH ““ Bluff-top homeowners in Solana Beach who want to build sea walls or fill in sea caves will have to deposit tens of thousands of dollars with the city before they can begin construction.

The City Council decided unanimously Wednesday night to require a $1,000 deposit for every foot of the length of the bluff-protection device.

The fee is effective immediately.

Solana Beach is the first city in the county to require a deposit and fees for building coastal bluff-protection devices, said Deputy Mayor Joe Kellejian, a member of the San Diego Association of Governments’ Shoreline Preservation Working Group.

Currently, the California Coastal Commission collects permit fees for such bluff-protection devices.

The Solana Beach fees will immediately apply to two Pacific Avenue homeowners with adjacent properties. The owners want emergency permission to fill a 20-foot-deep sea cave with concrete and build a 170-foot-long, 35-foot-high sea wall to forestall the imminent collapse of the bluff.

Four other bluff-top property owners along Pacific and Sierra avenues are applying for emergency bluff-protection devices or are inquiring about them, City Manager Dave Ott said.

Ott emphasized that the deposit will apply only to the biggest bluff-protection device because many properties along the city’s 1.4-mile coastline have more than one protective structure. For instance, some have a lower-bluff sea wall and midbluff sea wall.

Because the average length of bluff-protection devices in Solana Beach is 50 feet, most homeowners probably would pay a $50,000 deposit, Ott said.

The deposit will compensate the public for:

Losing sand on the beach because the sea walls and sea cave fillings prevent waves from eroding the bluffs to create sand.

Losing recreational space because the devices are built on the beach.

Leasing beach space to erect the devices.

The deposit is an interim policy that eventually will make way for a permanent set of fees, Ott said. The city is hiring a consultant to work with homeowners and environmentalists to determine what those fees should be.

Once the fees are established, homeowners whose deposits exceed the amount required by the city will be refunded the rest of their money with interest. Those whose deposits are smaller than the required fees will have to pay more.

The deposit policy met with mixed responses.

“It’s a good starting point,” Kellejian said. “The deposit is sort of like shooting in the dark. We don’t know what the amount is down the line, but I am comfortable with the direction we are taking.”

David Winkler, a founding member of the ad hoc committee that drafted a bluff-protection regulatory policy in 2005, said he was pleased that the city is taking action.

Until 2005, the city had no comprehensive regulations on bluff-protection devices because environmentalists and homeowners were fighting over the necessity of sea walls and sea cave fillings and pressuring the city to follow their respective philosophies.

Environmentalists, including the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter, opposed protective structures, arguing that they prevent the natural erosion of bluffs to create sand for the beaches. Property owners, however, insisted on bluff protection to keep their properties from disintegrating with the fragile cliffs.

As for the deposit, Winkler said it may be too high because bluff-protection devices are not the only things depriving the beach of sand. Development in the watershed and near the beach also prevents rivers from carrying sand to the ocean.

Todd Cardiff, an advisory board member of the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter, said the city should have refrained from issuing emergency permits that do not require the homeowners to explore alternatives.

For instance, the smaller of the two Pacific Avenue homes could move back from the bluff, he said.

“I don’t disagree that there is an emergency,” Cardiff said. “I am not happy that the city and the applicant are, once again, avoiding (consideration of alternatives).”