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Children’s Pool retaining wall gets no-vote from planners

CPA childrens pool wall Jason Grani
Public Works engineer Jason Grani stands by images of the Children’s Pool ‘ramp’ prior to the City constructing the retaining wall (right) and after (left).
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

One week before the California Coastal Commission rendered its decision on Children’s Pool access (at a meeting June 13, beyond La Jolla Light deadline), the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) reaffirmed its stance in favor of human access to the beach — this time by voting to deny a City request for a Substantial Conformance Review (SCR) approval on a small retaining wall that effectively, and according to LJCPA trustees, “blocks” the slope down to the sand. The City already approved the SCR, and retroactively sought local approval.

The slope — also referred to as a ramp — runs between the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower and the seawall, and has historically been used by those in wheelchairs (or with wheeled equipment such as wagons) to access the beach. But in recent years, the ramp has been blocked by a metal-armed gate. Those determined to access the beach would sometimes slide under the gate and down the ramp.

When the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower was reconstructed and completed in 2017, an ADA-accessible ramp was constructed to allow access to the middle level where the restrooms are located, but not to the beach itself. Once the ADA-ramp was completed, the City built the retaining wall in front of the slope that served as a ramp.

The work required a change in permits and the California Coastal Commission asked the City to obtain approval for a SCR. According to the City bulletin that outlines SCRs, the process determines “if the proposed project is consistent and in conformance with a previously approved permit” and “includes a review of the revised project against the approved exhibits, permit conditions, environmental documentation, applicable land-use policies and the public record for the prior permit. Staff will recommend approval of the modified project … if the change falls within the parameters of the prior approval.”

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La Jolla’s Development Permit Review committee (DPR), a LJCPA subcommittee, reviewed this project in May, and voted 5-0-1 to deny the SCR. All said, the LJCPA followed suit, voting 12-0-1 to ratify the DPR findings at its June 6 meeting.

In a brief presentation to LJCPA, Public Works engineers Jason Grani and James Arnhart explained the scope of work “changed” during the design and build process that required a change in permits.

But right away, trustees questioned whether a SCR was the appropriate process.

Trustee Diane Kane said: “Not only am I befuddled by the use of Substantial Conformance Review to review this project, I’m befuddled by the fact that you didn’t do an appropriate environmental review. You have blocked an access to the beach that is in our Community Plan. That is a huge impact to the public. You would have to get a community plan amendment to close that beach access. Either the wrong review process was used or it is incomplete.”

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In a counter presentation against the SCR, beach-access advocate Ken Hunrichs explained he has been following the lifeguard tower construction project since its inception.

He cited a 2015 permit for the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower construction that stated the ramp would be made functional for emergency vehicle use as part of the work. “This ramp is necessary for the City to comply with its own permit. … This is a simple project that should have been fixed.”

Children’s Pool is currently closed during harbor seal pupping season (Dec. 15 to May 15 annually) and Hunrichs added when the California Coastal Commission voted to establish the closure five years ago, one commissioner recommended the City explore ways to improve access for disabled beach-goers.

“This ramp is a possible option to meet that request,” he said.

Hunrichs also showed historic photos of the ramp in use, before it was blocked by way to the metal-armed gate and retaining wall.

Audience member and beach-access advocate Melinda Merryweather said she used to use that ramp to carry her son down to the beach in a little red wagon. “They are taking away a beach access,” she said. “I’m sure those in wheelchairs would like to be able to use that to access the beach.”

However, Arnhardt (Arnhart? not sure which spelling is correct) countered: “The City cannot allow people to use a ramp that is not safe. That would put us at a liability.”

To applause, the board voted 12-0-1 to affirm the findings of the DPR committee.

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Given the last day to file an appeal was the day after the LJCPA meeting, as a follow-up, trustee Mike Costello drafted a letter of appeal to be sent to the City. Among the comments, it states: “The La Jolla Community Planning Association finds that the application for a Substantial Conformance Review to permit the constructed 30-inch high retaining wall is not consistent with the Coastal Development Permit” and that the wall “blocks a pre-existing access path identified in the La Jolla Community Plan … The path has been in existence since the 1940s.”

LJCPA voted to send the appeal to the appropriate bodies the following morning.

The board has long advocated for human access to the beach. Ahead of the Coastal Commission hearing on Children’s Pool access, the board sent a letter opposing the continued closure. The Coastal Commission is considering extending the permit that allows for the annual beach closure during harbor seal pupping season, and another permit to allow for a rope to be in place the remaining seven months. Both permits, if approved, would be in effect until 2029.

The results will be reported in a future issue and at lajollalight.com


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