Solana Beach sea wall fight far from over

By U-T San Diego Editorial Board 5 p.m.June 4, 2013

Solana Beach property owners have every right to be furious over a land-use plan, 13 years in the making, that the North County coastal town’s City Council approved May 22.

Among other restrictions, it forces blufftop property owners to reapply for sea wall permits every 20 years, give up rights to private stairways to the beach when a stairway undergoes a major repair, and run the risk of not being allowed to repair or remodel their homes, depending on how much work they want to do and how close the home is to the edge of the cliffs.

But property owners shouldn’t direct their anger at the City Council. The real culprit is the state Coastal Commission, which has been waging war against them for years. Just last month, Diana Lilly, coastal planner in the commission’s San Diego office, told The Los Angeles Times she considers the sea walls “pretty ugly to look at” and hopes property owners learn to build farther back from the edge.

That doesn’t help property owners whose homes are already there “” homes that were legally approved in many cases years before there was a Coastal Commission to regulate coastal development.

Solana Beach occupies a 1.7-mile stretch of coast with high bluffs that are particularly vulnerable to erosion. Blufftop homeowners want to build sea walls to protect their homes; environmentalists say these walls limit public beach access because erosion helps replenish sand. Environmental groups insist on a “planned retreat” approach, calling for the sea walls to eventually come down so the bluffs can “retreat” from the sea ““ and, in the process, gobble up private property.

Environmentalists have found an ally with the Coastal Commission. The Solana Beach City Council last year finally got the commission to approve a coastal land-use plan that would give the city more control, but with 153 modifications, including the restrictions over which property owners are now up in arms.

But Solana Beach officials say anything short of what they approved won’t get the commission’s final OK this fall, in which case the commission rather than the city will continue to dictate who can get a permit to build or remodel a home, sea wall or stairway.

For Solana Beach, the 13-year fight to get a coastal land-use plan on the books may be a rubber-stamp away from being over. But property owners, who have already filed several suits against the city, are determined to press on “” buoyed by a recent Superior Court judge ruling in Encinitas that the Coastal Commission’s 20-year limit on sea wall permits is “arbitrary.”

We wish them luck. As we’ve said before, we’re against “planned retreat” because coastal engineers say it won’t necessarily restore beaches.

But it certainly will destroy homes.