ENCINITAS — The Planning Commission unanimously approved a major use permit on Jan. 5 that allows a seawall built under emergency conditions to become permanent despite objections by shoreline preservation groups.

January 13, 2012
by Wehtahnah Tucker

The applicant, Blue Curl, LLC’s request to install new landscaping in the mid-bluff area, an irrigation system and reconstruction of an unpermitted stairway was also approved.

The state’s Coastal Commission authorized an emergency mitigation permit in July 2008 for a seawall covering the lower bluff. After a bluff collapse destroyed the aging wooden structure and stairs, the applicant was given permission to construct a temporary seawall.

Seawalls are not allowable by city code. However, exception is made for instances where an existing structure is in imminent danger according to City Planner Roy Sapau. In addition, he told the commission that the stairway is considered to be vested, so that nonconforming structures can be rebuilt if they are destroyed 100 percent.

Mark Dillon, legal counsel for the applicant, said the major use permit should be granted. “There are no significant impacts (with the project),” he told the commission. He offered a report by an engineering firm hired by the applicant. “There is no evidence that either the previously constructed wall, or the new wall, has caused, or is causing significant loss of beach width or passive erosion at the subject property or adjacent properties,” wrote David Skelley, the project’s geotechnical engineer.

Yet Marco Gonzalez, an attorney with the Coast Law Group speaking on behalf of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, disagreed. He told the commission he has worked on seawall issues for the past 15 years.

“We’re talking about an emergency condition,” he said. He said per the municipal code, the city does not give up its right to evaluate the need for continuing to allow an emergency permitted seawall.

“There are impacts that aren’t even being addressed,” he said. He included passive erosion impacts at the site and eventual sand erosion after replenishment funds are depleted as results of allowing a permanent seawall. He told the commission there was “no excuse” for the city not to complete its own environmental impact report.
He said “bootstrapping” the major use permit onto the emergency approval by the coastal commission was inappropriate.
“What are the options?” asked Tony Brandenburg. Gonzalez said the “paltry” $11,000 the applicant is giving to a sand replenishment fund was not sufficient to mitigate the loss of the public’s beach.

David Oakley, a Neptune resident, said he also had the bluff under his home collapse in 1993. He said the proposal was not only good for the applicant but also provided additional safety for the public. Oakley told the commission he supported the seawall creation and doubted any harm would come to the shoreline as a result. “I’m very hopeful you can approve what they want,” he said.

“I’m here to tell you we need this wall … ,” Dillon said in response to Gonzalez. He said the engineer’s record indicated that there is no passive erosion at this particular site. He called Gonzales’ comments a “parade of horribles,” that were full of generalizations.

Brandenburg said that given natural erosion of the beach he didn’t see how the seawall would exacerbate the process.

Commissioner JoAnn Shannon said the Planning Commission’s historical precedence of approving similar projects gave her no reason to vote differently on the present permit.