A prominent developer who has spent more than a decade fighting the California Coastal Commission over allowing access to the beach has finally ended the fight, their attorney confirmed Monday (December 12).
Ure Kretowicz and his wife, Dianne, own a house at the end of Princess Street on the bluffs north of the northern end of the Coast Walk — south of La Jolla Shores, with 55-foot bluffs on two sides of the property totaling about 190 feet of coastline, according to coastal commission reports.
The beach is accessible during low tide. Kretowicz is the chairman and CEO of Cornerstone Communities and his equity company owns the La Jolla Hotel. He was part of mayor Kevin Faulconer's transition team in 2014.
The couple bought the house out of foreclosure in 1994 — the foreclosed owner having purchased it from Jane Baker in 1989. As part of the paperwork included when Baker sold the house was a handwritten note that informed the buyer that she made a deal with the coastal commission to provide public access. That's important, because Baker's application for a permit to add on to the original house resulted in coastal commission conditions that required public access through the property and down to the beach — and on the beach.
Before Baker built a 3300-square-foot addition to her 1350-square-foot home, people could stand on the bluff next to the house and enjoy the view or check the surf. They also could follow a foot path down the bluffs to the beach and lifeguards also had access. But once Baker finished the work, access was blocked, according to coastal commission documents.
The 1.3-acre property was bank-owned when the Kretowiczes bought it. By 2001, they'd built up the yard; they sought and then withdrew an application for a coastal commission permit, and apparently went ahead and had the construction done, according to legal briefs.
When they applied for a permit again in 2005, the commission said it was time to recreate that public access, The commission required the home to have a path "5 ft. in width extending from Princess Street along the southern edge of the property next to the garage and then in a northwesterly direction along the top of the slope and then back in a southwesterly direction, traversing down the face of the bluff to the beach."
The Kretowiczes sued the commission, arguing they didn't know about the commission requirement of public access. That case settled a year or two later with an agreement that access would be granted in 15 years or when the couple dies.
In 2012, the Kretowiczes sued the commission again. They contended that they didn't know about the access requirement when they bought the property and that it had probably expired. Their "how could we have known?" defense didn't impress the commission or the courts.
"At the time the Kretowiczes purchased the property in 1994, the La Jolla Local Coastal Program discussed shoreline access at Princess Street and alluded to Commission's dedication requirement at issue. Ure Kretowicz read the La Jolla LCP when he purchased the property, and the information was sufficient to create a duty on Kretowicz, an experienced and prudent developer purchasing the bluff-top coastal property on Princess Street, to inquire with Commission about additional facts concerning that dedication," the appellate court opinion says.
They lost their case against the commission in San Diego Superior Court, and in September 2015 appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeal and lost there as well. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court declined to review the case.
"They thought it unfair that they bought a property that had access issues going back two owners and it was up to them to solve the problem," said Sherman Stacey, the Kretowiczes' attorney
Stacey confirmed that he drafted and filed a slew of official easement documents that are now part of the property records.
According to commission spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz, "the underlying permit has been approved and issued, with plans being submitted showing the alignment of the future public access path as well as recorded documents against the property, she said in an email. "That said it will likely be some time before the path is installed."