Surfrider to back city’s shoreline plan under agreement

By Tanya Mannes

October 5, 2008

Solana Beach agreed last year to pay $100,000 to the Surfrider Foundation in return for the group’s endorsement of the city’s shoreline management plan, which is pending before the California Coastal Commission.

City Manager David Ott signed the agreement with Surfrider on Dec. 4, 2007, to gain the group’s support for the Solana Beach Local Coastal Program and to settle a lawsuit.

The City Council voted to approve the agreement in a closed session at some point before it was signed, but the decision to spend taxpayer funds and the existence of the settlement itself were never reported publicly. Some cities routinely disclose such actions.

City Attorney Johanna Canlas said the settlement was not reported publicly because when the council authorized it, the deal had not been signed yet by Surfrider and therefore was not considered final. Canlas said that such agreements are not announced but are made available upon request.

The San Diego Union-Tribune obtained the agreement from the city through a California Public Records Act request for all recent legal settlements.

The Coastal Commission is expected to consider the city’s coastal plan in November. If approved, it will give Solana Beach more control over development, including sea walls.

The Surfrider Foundation generally opposes the use of sea walls, saying they stop natural sand replenishment by blocking waves from eroding sand from the bluffs.

The settlement states that Surfrider “will support” the city’s land-use plan, which would permit sea walls under certain conditions.

The settlement provides Surfrider with $100,000 for attorneys’ fees. Of that amount, $33,000 was being withheld until Dec. 4, 2008, or until the Coastal Commission approved the plan, whichever came first.

Surfrider’s attorney, Marco Gonzalez of the Coast Law Group in Encinitas, said the settlement represents a compromise and “the most reasonable policies we could get.”

Gonzalez said that while the foundation opposes the use of sea walls, it supports the city’s plan because of an important stipulation: Sea walls must be removed by 2081.

“It’s the first policy in California that looks at sea wall removal sometime in the future,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said another important compromise was the city’s commitment to charge impact fees for homeowners seeking to build or reconstruct sea walls, with the money to be used for beach restoration.

Under the settlement, Surfrider agreed to withdraw a Superior Court lawsuit ““ consolidated from lawsuits in 2004 and 2005 ““ that sought to block several emergency sea walls in Solana Beach. Surfrider also agreed not to sue on other emergency sea wall permits that had been issued as of the date of the settlement.

The settlement states that it doesn’t prevent Surfrider from challenging future projects or the city’s efforts to implement the Local Coastal Program, once it is approved.

Mayor David Roberts said the City Council approved the settlement after weighing the potential cost of continuing the court defense.

“Litigation can be very expensive, whether it’s valid or not,” Roberts said. “The council subcommittee and the full council met and felt it would be better to settle this action and proceed forward, and find a compromise that everyone could agree to.”

The city’s Local Coastal Program represents a compromise reached in 2005 by a five-member committee made up of a Surfrider representative, former Mayor Doug Sheres; and bluff-top homeowners Jon Corn and David Winkler.

Tanya Mannes: (619) 498-6639; tanya.mannes@uniontrib.com