Construction on a new lifeguard tower near the jetty in South Mission Beach must stop until a judge can look into why the city waited nine years after the permit was issued and three years after the permit expired.
Judge Katherine Bacal
Impressive cost, excessive plans
In a September 3 ruling, San Diego Superior Court judge Katherine Bacal issued a temporary restraining order, barring any additional construction from taking place until a lawsuit challenging the project, and the permit, can be litigated.
On August 26, a group known as Citizens for Beach Rights filed a lawsuit over the demolition of the old, wooden, 897-square-foot lifeguard station on South Mission Beach. If or when the plan proceeds, the old structure will be replaced with a three-story, 3125 square-foot building with observation tower, first-aid room, a lobby, enclosed parking and storage for safety vehicles, and restrooms; its cost is estimated at $4.6 million.
At the root of the lawsuit are claims that the city missed the boat on building the station in a timely manner. The permit issued on September 27, 2006, expired in 2009. When the city finally did get moving on the project, 900 square feet had been added to the project, according to documents filed with the California Coastal Commission.
South Mission Beach's old lifeguard tower
When it all began
Plans to replace the old South Mission Beach lifeguard station date back to 2004. It was then that the Mission Beach Planning Group rejected plans to build a 3500-square-foot tower and requested that the city build a smaller, less obtrusive station. The city agreed. In September of 2006 the city issued site development permit 197971. Written in the permit were the following restrictions:
"Construction, grading or demolition must commence and be pursued in a diligent manner within thirty-six months after the effective date of final approval by the City, following all appeals. Failure to utilize the permit within thirty-six months will automatically void the permit unless an Extension of Time has been granted. Any such Extension of Time must meet all the [San Diego Municipal Code] requirements and applicable guidelines in effect at the time the extension is considered by the appropriate decision maker."
But September 2009 came and went and no construction occurred at the site. In 2011, the California Coastal Commission approved the plans, despite the expiration of the permits. According to documents obtained by the Reader, in March 2015, four years after the coastal permit was approved, an architect with Domus Studio contacted the city in an attempt to hash out what was referred to as square-foot "discrepancies between the [Coastal Development Permits] in 2004 and 2011."
Without notifying residents and without a public hearing, that was the first and only mention in documents that the size and scope of the expired permit had increased.
Beach rights group forms
In May 2015, crews prepared to lay the foundation. Pylons and structural supports for the seawall were set. Meanwhile, the Citizens for Beach Rights group formed and their attorney Craig Sherman began looking into the matter. Upon contacting the California Coastal Commission, Sherman learned that the city was attempting to resurrect the project without notifying the public.
Sherman contacted city attorney Jan Goldsmith on August 29 in an attempt to confer with Goldsmith and try to resolve the matter before moving forward with a restraining order. Sherman says his office did not receive a response.
"The fact of the matter is, the city can’t build on an expired permit,” said Sherman after the judge’s decision. "They need to follow their own rules. Everything about this has been done in such a covert manner and it doesn’t need to be done this way. They didn’t follow their own rules. Instead, in 2014, five years after the permit expired, the city tries to push an even bigger project, approximately 900 square feet bigger, internally through the coastal commission. Shortly after that, construction started like gangbusters, laying the foundation and rushing this through. That can’t happen, and a judge today agreed with us."
On September 3, Judge Bacal granted the temporary restraining order. The two sides will be back in court on September 18 to see whether Bacal will extend the order until the merits of the case can be heard.