LEUCADIA, Calif. —  A growing number of environmentalists are fighting beachfront homeowners who want to build seawalls to prevent their property from washing out to sea.

Marco Gonzalez, with the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, and others believe seawalls, retaining walls and other manmade barriers built to stop the natural process of land erosion are actually harmful.

They say they cause beach sand to wash away and they want property owners to pay a fee for any negative impact the seawall may have on the beach.

“The environmentalist believe that we can’t continue to armor our coast without sacrificing our coast,” said Gonzalez.

His group and others want to see planned or managed erosion, with homes and infrastructure taken off the bluffs above beaches.

The latest beachfront in this growing battle is a bluff in Leucadia. When it failed in 2008, a temporary seawall was constructed to keep a duplex on Neptune, which sits above the bluff from falling into the sea.

Blue Curl LLC, the corporation owning the property, is asking the Encinitas Planning Commission to make the emergency wall into a permanent barrier.  The request is not sitting well with environmental groups.

“In this circumstance, we aren’t opposing the construction of the sea wall. It’s already there,” said Gonzalez.  “This is an after-the-fact permit after an emergency was declared in 2008.”

Roy Sapa’u, a senior planner with the city of Encinitas said the homeowner got the emergency permit from the Coastal Commission and the city is now moving forward with the improvements that were installed.

“The city’s municipal code requires the city or prohibits the city from issuing any permits for the construction of any seawalls except under circumstances where an existing principal structure is imminently threatened,” said Sapa’u during a phone interview.

“Basically I don’t think that someone who builds on the edge of an eroding coastline can claim that it is an emergency in the first place,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez doesn’t want the wall torn down, but he does want the property owners to pay a sand mitigation fee.  He said other property owners had to pay the fee when constructing a seawall under normal circumstances.

“That’s called stealing.  Robbing the beach in front of their home without paying for it and that’s why we’re here,” he said.  “When entities like this come forward and don’t pay their fair share it just means we’re less likely to have long-term beaches we currently have.”

He said the fee helps cities like Encinitas put sand back on the beach.

“We’re here to see that we the recreationalists and taxpayers, that we get our due out of this essentially private subsidy for this homeowner,” Gonzalez said.

“If we just go down to Solana Beach and look, where frankly almost the whole city now has sea walls. That’s what we’re going to end up with here in Encinitas,” he said.

Gonzalez believes the fight to save the coastline for everyone, not just for a select few who live above it, will only grow.

“With global climate change and sea level rise, it is a new problem we’re going to face a lot more of in the next five to 10 years.  These contentious fights are only going to be more numerous,” he said.

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Fox 5 San Diego
January 6, 2012
By Perette Godwin