La Jolla permitters deny bluff stabilization work, OK home expansion


With a record attendance of 30 people at its Sept. 13 meeting, the Development Permit Review committee (DPR) denied coastal development and site permits for the bluff stabilization project at 417 Sea Ridge Drive. The project, which was first presented to DPR in August, came back to the committee after a code enforcement action by the City of San Diego, which condemned the construction of an unpermitted seawall to remedy a bluff failure that occurred in September 2015 following an El Niño storm.

Permitters have questions about bluff-repair project »

The applicant, who is in negotiations with the city, wants to keep the unpermitted seawall made of a “sand slurry” (a mix of sand and concrete with no additives that erodes at a slower pace than the natural bluff) and remove the structures closer to the cliff along with a retaining wall built in the 1980s. The property’s swimming pool would stay five feet away from the bluff top as a floating structure with no reinforcement other than its own concrete box, while the “sand slurry” protects the house.

Trustees questioned the decision to keep the pool. Applicant Michael Morton explained, “(The owner) is aware of the risk that he’s taken by not removing the pool. That’s why the city has required the homeowner to do ongoing monitoring. Because in the future, if there’s any movement in the pool, the city will red tag it, and at that time, it could be removed.”

Dave Skelly, the engineer charged with the monthly pool checks if the project was approved, said his duty would be to report back to the city if any sign of erosion appeared on the structure. He explained that the factor of safety (a mathematical ratio that calculates the force necessary to bring the bluff down) was set at 1.5 for the project, which is code compliant. This was accomplished by unloading the weight on the bluff, “What’s interesting is that water weighs less than soil, so if you build a pool, you’re actually unloading the bluff.”

DPR member Mike Costello pointed out that the geological study the project was based upon used a retreat rate significantly lower than the observed rate. To his concerns, Skelly replied, “I’ve learned that Mother Nature always wins, so it’s just a matter of time (the bluff erodes), but it’s a matter of time with any kind of shoreline development … anything you do to unload the bluff — a wall or anything — increases the stability.”

During public comment, Mary Lynn Hyde presented the view of neighbors, “We understand that the property owner wants to protect the investment as a vacation rental, which according to, rents for $80,000 a month, and having a pool is part of that rental. … We are all in favor of bringing the property under compliance, working with the city by removing the unpermitted work, and restoring the natural slope of the bluff. We do not approve permitting the illegal retaining wall.”

She added that in her opinion, allowing the unpermitted wall would encourage other homeowners in similar circumstances to take it upon themselves to fix their properties with the only consequence, a nominal fine.

Barry Tashakorian, who said he’s lived in La Jolla since 1970, summarized the opposing view. “Instead of having the bluff damaged more, the property owners are trying to stabilize it, so let’s focus on how we can stabilize it further rather than tearing it all apart. We don’t want this town to go down in value, we want people who are investing,” he said.

Kirke Wrench, the neighbor adjacent to the area that suffered the damage and later repairs, insisted the sand slurry not be removed, fearing that further erosion could occur on his property. “I’m also concerned that we don’t really know if it was done according to the plan, or if the drains go all the way to the back,” he said.

Costello moved that findings could not be made for the coastal development and site permits, and the motion passed 6-0-1. “Whoever runs this property has to learn from this action and the statements by the judge and the court, and make a commitment to better maintain this property,” concluded chair Paul Benton.

In other DPR news:

Steel Residence: After a long process that has taken years of effort, negotiation, historical designation, designs and redesigns, the Steel Residence at 7991 Prospect Place obtained a permit for a 5,992-square-foot addition 63 feet from the street to an existing 833-square-foot residential single-family dwelling. The project includes a three-story addition and a 3,500-square-foot basement.

Discussion focused on the looks of the proposed roofs for the addition, which in the opinion of DPR members didn’t have the slope that the surrounding Craftsman-like cottages present.

During public comment, property owner Melissa Steel told the committee, “This has been a labor of love, and on a high note, my husband and I are still here together. The objective for us was to buy and restore the cottage to give something back to the community, and I feel at the end of the day, we’ve been very thoughtful trying to do all the right things, working to improve the beauty of La Jolla. … This has been years of saving and hard work, so I’d ask that you approve our project to help us restore the cottage and help make La Jolla more beautiful.”

After architect Lisa Kriedman redesigned the overhang of the roofs, adding two to two-and-a-half-feet to them on each side of the house, trustees were satisfied and OK’d the construction project.

Permitters OK antenna updates, look into home expansion »

Historical Resources Board designates 1910 La Jolla home ‘historic’ »

House of the Future: A project was presented for a “home of the future.” Applicants propose to demolish a property at 6436 Camino de la Costa and build a 5,886-square-foot, two-story residence with a basement, boasting 100 percent sustainability. They plan to install 44 solar panels on the flat roof, which makes the property eligible for the city’s sustainable expedite program. The front and back of the house will be primarily made of high-performance glass with cutting-edge infills between the windows for energy conservation. The approach to storm water involves a reduction in the runoff created by the home, with the addition of planters and artificial turf that will let the rain water infiltrate. The project is up for final review in October.

DPR next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.