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Permitters to City: Tear down this wall!

A path down to the Children’s Pool beach, built in the 1940s, is blocked not only by a gate locked since the 1990s by the City, but also by a 30-inch retaining wall built by the City in 2015.
(COREY LEVITAN)

A little over two hours after their May 21 meeting at the Rec Center adjourned, La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) committee members discovered that the project they advised the City not to approve — a Substantial Conformance Review (SCR) for a 30-inch-high retaining wall built just below the Children’s Pool Lifeguard Tower in December 2015 — had already been approved by the City (through its Development Services Department) before the DPR meeting even got underway.

At the meeting, City Public Works staffers Jason Grani, Marlon Perez and Juan Beligad sought a recommendation for the SCR. The staffers stated that the wall was necessary to provide additional support for the gate posts, to retain about a foot of soil, and to serve as a safety barrier for the ramp. The construction change was approved by Development Services without being brought to any community groups for input.

DPR members strongly disagreed with the City’s position, voting 5-0-1 that findings could not be made that the wall substantially conforms to Coastal Development Permit (CDP) No. 549686, recorded on Feb. 17, 2012. In its motion, DPR reasoned that the wall blocks a pre-existing access path identified in the La Jolla Community Plan.

While the original CDP only promised Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access down to the lifeguard tower’s bathroom level, it also promised that the development “will not encroach upon … any existing physical access way that is legally used by the public or any proposed public access way identified in a Local Coastal land-use plan” and that “the existing plaza will be reconfigured to provide a ramp for emergency vehicles to the beach.” The ramp in question, DPR chair Brian Will noted, was built in the 1940s and regularly used by beach-goers, lifeguards and City staff until the City allowed it to fall into disrepair and locked the gate, without public notice, to prevent its use in the late 1990s.

“That ramp was outside of our jurisdiction,” Grani argued. “We’re not blocking it. We didn’t do anything to that ramp.” Grani stated that the path did not fall within the scope of the SCR they were currently seeking, and that a new, ADA-compliant access ramp could be built, if a new CDP were obtained.

This elicited the following rebuke from Will: “When your project was permitted, it didn’t make any changes to that path. You actively blocked that path. And now your statement is that to undo that damage, it’s a new project and needs to be brought up to ADA. That piece of concrete was clearly in your scope.”

Grani replied that “we had to protect that bluff,” to which Will replied: “That’s not a bluff. You can clearly see that’s a coastal access road.”

City Public Works staffers Jason Grani and Juan Beligad argue their case for a Substantial Conformance Review that, unbeknownst to DPR trustees, had already been approved by the City.
(COREY LEVITAN)

DPR also found the wall inconsistent with both the City’s adopted local coast program and with former Coastal Commissioner Martha McClure’s request to investigate improving ADA and emergency-vehicle access. Finally, as Will noted, this was a review to determine whether a project substantially conforms to a CDP in which the applicant made no attempt to argue why it conforms.

“This wall is an afterthought at best,” beach-access activist Ken Hunrich said. “At worst, it’s a spiteful way to prevent access to the beach. There are some people who are adamantly opposed to people going down to the beach, for some reason.” (The consensus among the beach-access activists in the room — who also included Melinda Merryweather, Phyllis Minick and John Leek — was that the wall is part of an intentional City effort to trade human access to the Children’s Pool for pinniped access.)

DPR trustee Diane Kane noted that the City had been relying on a five-year-old environmental document to substantiate its position when, during that period, field conditions had changed as a result of project changes. “This fact requires some sort of amendment to the previous environmental work that would identify the degree of the impact and develop mitigation,” she said. “The most likely remedy would be to re-open the ramp by leveling the grade on both sides of the wall.”

Other than the three City employees, not one of the 20 or so people who spoke at the May 21 DPR meeting agreed with the City’s position on the retaining wall.
(COREY LEVITAN)

DPR voted to fast-track its no-vote so it could send the recommendation to the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) before its June 6 vote on this project. (The City was originally supposed to make its presentation to DPR at its May 14 meeting, but bumped it a week, offering no specific reason.)

Should LJCPA also find against recommending the already-granted SCP, it will have the opportunity to file an appeal with the San Diego City Council and then, if either side is dissatisfied with the decision made there, the California Coastal Commission.

Following the meeting, the Light asked the City to explain how blocking an access way can achieve substantial conformance to a CDP promising not to do exactly that. A public information officer e-mailed the following response: “The 30-inch tall retaining wall, located between the posts of the existing gate, was necessary to protect the ADA-compliant access ramp to the restrooms from the exposed bluff and prevent further erosion. As indicated by the Site and Coastal Development permits, the project provided emergency vehicle access to the beach and pedestrian access to the lower level accessible restrooms and showers. Please note that lifeguards … don’t have a need to get access to that point of the beach with vehicles. If a water rescue is necessary, they use the seawall (on foot) versus going through the gate.”

Also at DPR

Kornberg concedes: Architect Christian Rice, representing applicant Jason Kornberg, got the green light for a CDP to demolish an existing house at 2605 Ellentown Road in Scripps Estates and build a 3,449-square-foot replacement with 462-square-foot attached garage and 701-square-foot companion unit. The vote was 4-1-1, with only trustee Beth Gaenzle opposing.

At the May 14 DPR meeting, trustees and 10 neighbors objected to plans, including an elevated deck, that placed the proposed structure 18 inches over the community’s self-imposed 15-foot height limit. But the plans were since revised, reducing the height to comply with the homeowners association’s (HOA) Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions. (A rep from the HOA affirmed its approval of the plans as presented.)

The only remaining issue was relatively minor: whether guest parking in front of the new house should remain wild or landscaped. Rice proposed installing a gravel driveway, but neighbors objected, something both sides agreed to work out in the HOA’s landscape committee.

Unit fast-tracked: DPR voted to fast-track its recommendation for a CDP to add a 500-square-foot attached companion unit, a 154-square-foot dining room addition, and a 382-square-foot bedroom and bathroom addition to a house at 1264 La Jolla Rancho Road.

Extension extended: DPR unanimously recommended an extension of a CDP for a lot-line adjustment for a project at 1550 Via Corona, which expired in March.

— DPR next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 11 at the La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect. St.