Inn at Sunset Cliffs' storm-ravaged deck that called for emergency repairs
The Inn at Sunset Cliffs, whose owner overstepped the boundaries of the emergency permit to fix a collapsed deck, won the support of the Ocean Beach Planning Group Wednesday (October 4th) on its application for city permits that cover work already completed. With a unanimous vote, they decided to ignore the arguments made by the inn’s neighbors and attorney Marco Gonzalez, whose foundation sued the inn to stop the work.
1370 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, San Diego
Gonzalez and Craig Sherman, who represents the neighbors, argued that the inn did more construction than the emergency permit allowed, and that its owners have a history of building first and seeking permission later — and only if they’re forced to.
The inn was built in the 1950s, with a sea wall about 20 feet past the bluffs, according to the inn’s attorney, Justine Nielsen. In 2010, the city issued a notice of violations for the deck, after Gonzalez’s Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation sued the city and California Coastal Commission, as well as the inn’s owner, Sen Jou. The inn then applied for permits and spent five years in the permit process. (It’s not clear who owns the inn: while Sen Jou is listed on the deed, a man named Dan Fisher is listed as the owner on many documents. Requests for clarification went without a response.)
Meantime, in 2015, storm surf ripped out the bluff under the deck and it collapsed, leaving gaping holes in two places. The inn got an emergency permit to repair the deck. Emergency permits are for limited repairs and include the condition that a regular permit must be obtained later.
“Once the contractors got out there, they realized the scope of the work they originally came for was not going to be sufficient to address the work that was needed,” Nielsen said. “There were a few small accessories added.”
How much and how legal the work was has been disputed both by the city and in the lawsuit. The inn’s attorney said it prevailed and applied for the three permits needed to make the deck legal.
According to Nielsen, the project they’ve proposed includes the construction of two new seacant walls and the removal of a fire pit and barbecue pit that were added during the emergency deck repairs.
“We didn’t only just pour a new slab. We had to put concrete and materials below it to support a new deck,” said Dan Fisher. “We properly engineered it and it’s not so different than before.” Fisher didn't say how much the repair — which Gonzalez says was done at night and involved 33 truckloads of concrete — cost or how much concrete was used. He said that the deck will be 200 square feet smaller than the original deck after the additions are removed.
“As soon as we get a recommendation from you guys we’ll be preparing our environmental document,” Nielsen said.
Barbara Holton, one of the objecting neighbors, pointed out that there is a deed restriction from the California Coastal Commission that restricts construction to repairing the existing deck.
Her attorney pointed out that the city certified the deck construction was safe during the normal permit process in November 2015 and that the bluff beneath it collapsed a month later. The inn has a history of code and permit violations, he added. In 2008, the owner agreed that the deck didn’t have permits and was in violation of city codes when they expanded the deck during emergency repairs.
Gonzalez said his group has been fighting the deck for seven years. “They didn’t respond to the notice of violation — we had to sue them,” he said. “It wasn’t a deck repair, they built the deck they always wanted. Santa Claus delivered the El Niño storm and they took the opportunity to build the deck they always wanted until the city came in and said stop.”
Five members of the public and the inn manager spoke in favor of the inn, saying it is an important asset to Ocean Beach as one of the two lodgings in the area and as a neighbor that lets residents use the swimming pool. They hire only OBceans, the manager said.
Ocean Beach MainStreet Association also sent a letter to support the inn’s request. Members of the planning group acknowledged that the inn had thwarted the permit process — Obcean Mike Saffron said that if something happened to his property, “I’d make as much better as I could.” But not everyone was willing to forgive the inn’s thwarting of current codes and the Coastal Act, which became law about 20 years after the inn was built.
“The entire lower deck, it’s a complete violation of the community plan,” said planning-group member Tom Gawronski. But other group members noted that the inn is important to the community and voted to give the inn their recommendation on an 8-to-3 vote.