On Thursday, March 7, members of the Surfrider San Diego Chapter Beach Preservation Committee and Policy Staff attended the California Coastal Commission Meeting in Los Angeles. The Chapter achieved two important victories for our coastline that have the potential for huge impact in the future. 

As always, there were numerous items to be heard by the Commission over its three-day meeting.  Of importance to the San Diego Chapter were two applications involving seawalls.  One permit requested that an existing seawall serve as protection for a proposed demolition and remain in place to support a new home on the bluff top in Encinitas.  The other was a permit application for the construction of a new seawall that would front three properties in Solana Beach.  

The construction of seawalls over the last several decades has intensified the thinning of the sandy shoreline at many San Diego beaches.  This has a direct impact on surfers and beachgoers across the county. The California Coastal Commission is tasked with the duty of upholding the California Coastal Act of 1976 by ensuring, among other things, that development and maintenance of properties in the coastal zone do not destroy California’s precious recreational resources and iconic views.  This often means that the Commission has to make difficult decisions affecting people’s homes for the greater long-term benefit of the general public.  The March meeting was no different.

Application No. A-6-ENC-16-0068, Encinitas

After extended debate, the Commission voted to deny the permit application for the proposed home in Encinitas.  The decision is a step in the right direction for finding balance between the rights of homeowners and the rights of the beach going public.  The standard of review for the decision was the Encinitas Local Coastal Program and the California Coastal Act, which both indicate that new development cannot rely on existing seawalls for stability.  The Coastal Act requires new development to be set back far enough from bluff’s edge or the beach so that it will not require coastal armoring in the future.  It is the intent that as pre-Coastal Act homes need to be demolished and rebuilt due to age, they will migrate landward, eliminating the need for protective structures and eventually restoring the coast to a natural state.  By following the staff recommendation for denial in this instance, the Commission took an important step forward in upholding the intent of the Coastal Act.  You can see our letter submitted to the Commission, here.

Application No. 6-18-0288, Solana Beach

Immediately following the conversation regarding the Encinitas development, the Commission considered an application from three property owners in Solana Beach who were requesting a continuous seawall to protect two pre-Coastal Act homes and one home that was constructed in the 1990s.  The owners of the newer constructed home knowingly accepted the risk of building their home on the bluff top, closer to the edge than recommended, with the understanding that they would not be legally entitled to protective structures on the bluff front.  The commission amended the application, holding that only the two pre-Coastal Act homes were legally entitled to a seawall.  The third home was built after the Coastal Act had been adopted and therefore, the homeowners were not entitled to protective devices.  Surfrider’s written comments can be seen, here.

This is a particularly important decision as it provides a glimmer of hope that there may be a break and reversal in the tide of seawalls that affront the bluffs in Solana Beach. Because many of the homes in Solana Beach were built prior to the implementation of the Coastal Act, large swaths of the bluffs along Solana Beach have been armored to protect the homes above.  While the impact of bluff erosion is a very real and present danger for the homeowners, the impacts of coastal armoring on the long-term existence of public access to the beach and bluffs cannot be overlooked.  The bluffs in Solana Beach belong to the public and are not the private property of the homeowners.  The natural beauty of Encinitas, Solana Beach, and all San Diego beaches is enjoyed by many, beyond the fortunate few who live directly adjacent to the shoreline.  

While these properties cover only small pieces of the coast, they have the potential to set major precedent for the future.  Surfrider San Diego will continue to advocate for maintaining the natural beauty of the bluffs and beaches of San Diego in accordance with local coastal programs and the California Coastal Act.  To watch the full Coastal Commission Meeting, visit the Commission’s website here.