Despite a push by San Diego County supervisor Greg Cox to approve it, on January 14 the California Coastal Commission shot down the Solana Beach & Tennis Club’s attempt to get permission to fill in five sea caves on the ocean bluff with concrete.
The homeowners’ association for the 152-condominium project is pushing for 110 feet of infill on the bluffs where the commission staff report says there are already 250 feet of concrete infills. The group says its plan involves using concrete formulated to erode at the same rate as the bluffs. If it doesn’t erode the way promised, the commission wants a promise that the concrete will be removed — something the homeowners seemed reluctant to agree to do.
“This is a de facto seawall,” said Julia Chunn-Heer, policy manager for Surfrider San Diego. “The commission’s policy is to reserve seawalls for when they are unavoidable and necessary.”
The approximately 80-foot-tall sandstone bluffs have eroded around the base where waves smack into them, and each bit of erosion makes a new gouge possible until the bluff above turns into an overhang. The natural process brings sand to the beach — at the expense of threatening the buildings above.
Solana Beach & Tennis Club isn’t alone in the fight to protect pricey views. The club, which is a much-used vacation rental site for owners who pay $480 a month in association fees, joined in a lawsuit with a half dozen other properties in the Beach and Bluff Conservancy against the city to protect its perceived right to shore up the bluffs in 2014.
One of the problems with the “erodible” concrete infill of those ocean-gouged caves is that the last round, approved in 1996, didn’t erode at the same rate as the bluff and now it sticks out, according to the commission staff report. But this time will be different, the homeowners’ association argued. Surfrider doesn’t see it that way.
Two years ago, the association was granted permission to pour some concrete, and they should allow that concrete to be the test case before they pour 110 new feet of it, Chunn-Heer argued.
“They basically don’t want to prove it will erode and they don’t want to remove it if it doesn’t erode,” Chunn-Heer said. “Your own staff says it is not ideal to remove it once it’s installed.”
The discussion sparked a debate about what could happen to the bluff if the commission ordered the removal of the infills if they did not properly erode — one of the conditions of the permit it would issue. That led to questions about testing an area first, like the area that was already approved. But that installation has not yet occurred, the association confirmed. Testing wasn’t possible.
Cox made a motion to push the new permit through anyway, quickly seconded by commissioner Mark Vargas. On voting, it became apparent that only Cox and Vargas supported the project without testing, as eight other commissioners voted against it.