Opinion: Please don’t change the coastal development standards in La Jolla

Guest Commentary / Opinion / Our Readers Write:

Regarding the article in the May 11, 2017 La Jolla Light issue, “La Jollans propose paradigm change in new construction,” to advance full disclosure, I am an architect in La Jolla. I’m also a homeowner here and a fair-minded person who has seen this hypocrisy before.

The Citizens for Responsible Coastal Development (CRCD), proponents of this code revision, wish to provide you — as a property owner considering a remodel/expansion — with two options. Let me tell you, neither is better than what you have now.

Option 1: Limit your addition to 40 percent of the lot size. They will offer you additional percentage increase, as long as it is to tailor your addition to their liking.

Option 2: Allow you to develop to the maximum Floor Area Ration (FAR), which is 59 percent for a typical 5,000 square foot lot. If you choose this option, you will have to get a Coastal Permit. Again, currently you do not need a Coastal Permit to increase to 59 percent.

If you go with Option 1, 40 percent FAR, you will lose 19 percent of the developable square footage. On a 5,000 square foot lot, that is 950 square feet. Currently in La Jolla, properties are selling for around $850 per square foot, depending on where in La Jolla you live. 950 square feet (times) $850 per square feet equals $807,500. Basically you will lose $800,000 in developable value.

If you choose Option 2 and increase to 59 percent, you will need a Coastal Development Permit. Today, the permit (with all architect and engineering costs and permit fees), you will spend anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000. In addition, the permit will take between 12 and 18 months to process. The mortgage or loan payments over this period could be $100,000. Add that to the $100,000 in fees and you are looking at a burden of $200,000. Remember, this is not required with the existing regulations.

So, your options are, lose $800K in developable value or $200K in wasted time and money. What do you get in return, an “over-the-counter” permit? Wow!

OK, let’s look at what that means. Today, a regular building permit to remodel your house and if you wish, expand to .59 FAR, takes about 8 to 10 weeks and costs about $6,000. An over-the-counter permit, I assume the proponents mean something that takes a very short amount of time, unfortunately no longer exists. It was a great idea 10 years ago. But, with the new or existing Federal- and State-mandated regulations, it’s no longer possible.

The City cannot wave a Federal or State mandate. Let me tell you about just a few: EPA Hydro-modifications (water drainage and runoff); Title 24 energy restrictions; Historic Review (any building over 45 years old); Fault Line and Geologic Hazard Overlays; Soils Reports and or a Grading Permit. In addition, any modest increase in water or gas use, will trigger new meters and a Right of Way (ROW) and Encroachment Maintenance and Removal Agreement (EMRA).

If you are on a hillside, you may need a site Development Permit. If you are in town, you may need a Neighborhood Development Permit. None of these regulations can be processed by the City under an over-the-counter permit. In the coastal zone, there is no longer such a thing as “over-the-counter.”

I have an alternate suggestion for the proponents. Maintain the current standards that guarantee every property owner has the same rights, restrictions and expectations for developing their property. We then all have the same FAR, setback and height-limit standards. Make no change, so that we are all treated equally, regardless of where we live or how we choose to build. If you, like I, believe we have enough regulations in our lives, please let the CRCD know your opinion.

Editor’s Note: The incentive-based zoning for coastal development proposal is for NEW development, not remodel/expansion of existing properties.