SUNSET CLIFFS — It would be difficult to find a more romantic setting to get married.
Ocean waves crash against the rocks directly below a white, picket fence. A concrete back patio overlooks the water. There is a panoramic view that goes on for miles on a clear day.
It is all part of the wedding package at the Inn at Sunset Cliffs, a tiny hotel on the San Diego coast. There’s just one problem, according to an environmental group. The terrace, they say, was illegally built on a sea wall that is public property.
Now, the issue is going to court.

January 31, 2011
by Nathan Max
San Diego Union Tribune

Encouraged by local residents and surfers, the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation has filed suit in San Diego County Superior Court against the hotel. The lawsuit is still in its initial stages and a trial date has not been set, according to Rory Wicks, an attorney representing the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation.

Richard Schulman, an attorney representing the hotel, did not return several messages seeking comment.

In a recent court filing, the hotel denied any of its facilities were located on public property.

The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, a nonprofit Encinitas-based organization, claims the hotel is in violation of the Coastal Act and has ignored cease-and-desist orders to remove the patio. In its complaint, the environmental group included an eight-page code-compliance violation notice that it said the hotel ignored.

“This is a unique lawsuit in that there’s been a clear taking of public property for private use,” Wicks said. “And it’s coastal property, which is treated differently under California law. It’s given more protection.”

In its court filing, the hotel denied it was in violation of the Coastal Act.

According to the hotel’s website, the Inn at Sunset Cliffs can host weddings for up to 105 guests. Those reserving the space also rent out the entire hotel.

The area is not available for weddings between June 1 and Aug. 31.

The code-compliance violation notice, sent by the city and dated June 29, 2010, claims a concrete patio, fence and stairs leading to a lower deck were all built without the required permits, and that the hotel lacks the proper facilities to host weddings. It also alleges that the hotel is using garages as storage areas instead of for parking.

“It’s like stealing public property,” said Wicks, who has lived in the area since 1984. “They have fenced off this public property so the public can’t enjoy it, and they’re using it to make money.”

In its response to the complaint, the hotel claimed prosecuting the lawsuit provides no benefit to the public and the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation “lacks legal standing to bring this action.”

[email protected] • (619) 718-5252 • Twitter: @natemax

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