Permitters have questions about bluff-repair project


Two tons of dirt and rock sloughed off an oceanfront cliff during a bluff collapse near Tourmaline Surfing Park on Sept. 11, 2015. No injuries or property damage were reported, but on top of that cliff was somebody’s residential property.

The owner of the premises at 417 Sea Ridge Drive reportedly completed an unpermitted seawall to mitigate the damages. After being notified of the code violation by the city, the owner is now applying for a permit to remedy the situation, and the case appeared in front of the Development Permit Review committee (DPR) Aug. 16. Representing the applicant, Michael Morton argued for removing the existing retaining wall and bluff-top improvements and restoring the cliff to “a more natural state.”

“(After the cliff failure, the owner) took it upon himself to use an ‘erodible sand slurry’ to infill this bluff area,” said Morton, adding that the beach under the bluff is a popular one, and the owner worried about liability in case more of the cliff earth would crumble.

The code enforcement case was opened in April for “grading/walls/repairs without permits on coastal bluff.” City Public Information Officer Anthony Santacroce explained, “The property owner was given a civil notice of violation and has until Sept. 9 to comply with all the regulations regarding permitting, review and inspections. Accrued daily fines of $250-plus may be levied if the owner does not comply.”

Morton, who said his company was hired previous to the bluff collapse but didn’t know of the unpermitted work until it was done, explained that the current project involves removing the bluff-top hardscape (pictured), a retaining wall built in the 1980s, and the unpermitted seawall to gain space for a sloped “erodible sand slurry mix,” composed of a sandy material that erodes at a slower pace than the naturally occurring mix of sand and boulders.

“To really understand the site, you need to know the geology of La Jolla,” said Morton. He went on to explain that when Mount Soledad was uplifted, very hard material was set at the base of the hill. However, 10-15 million years of erosion (and a possible infill when the area was subdivided, interjected DPR member Mike Costello), covered the bluffs of La Jolla with a very fertile and erodible material.

“All the irrigation happens on top of the hill, progresses down Mount Soledad and gets to what they call ‘perch,’ ” Morton said. “All that water is sitting on that top layer of material and that’s what causes these bluff failures.”

If the project is approved, the property’s pool deck (exposed by the September bluff erosion) will be gone, although the pool on that side of the property will stay with a five-foot setback from the sand slurry slope — a controversial point since neighbors at the meeting opined the pool has to go to ensure the stability of the bluff.

DPR member and neighbor Costello prepared a presentation with the help of other residents. “We neighbors are all concerned because we are apprehensive about the quality of what’s done here. This has looked awful, unsafe and unkempt for a decade, and the neighbors want to see something of quality. We are pretty much unanimous that the pool should go. This is not a safe area. It looks like this whole thing is going to wash away,” he said.

During public comment, neighbor Mary Lynn Hyde added, “We have watched the bluff fail repeatedly over the years and are very concerned about this project. It sounds really good to stabilize the bluff, but we see it happening all the time, the pools leak, the water pumps fail. … My opinion is the pool needs to come out.”

On the pool issue, Morton reaffirmed his proposal that the pool stays, but he confessed that the sloped sand slurry won’t provide extra support for the structure. “In the case that more erosion threatens the pool, the pool is out. But our proposal is basically to maintain a pool patio that’s currently there for the next 75 years.”

However, neighbors also disagreed with the length of that guarantee. “Another house down the street that I’m familiar with at the bluff tops, was given a 75-year-guarantee for a 15-foot section of their backyard, which has fallen away,” Costello said.

DPR members also had concerns with the effects of the project on the adjacent properties, the requirements for front porch landscaping, the drainage system and the recurring erosion. The applicant was asked to get answers and return to the next board meeting, 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St.