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San Diego council denies environmental appeal over Windansea belvedere project

A photo illustration shows a belvedere that formerly stood at Windansea Beach on the location where another would be built.
A photo illustration submitted to the San Diego City Council shows a belvedere that formerly stood at Windansea Beach superimposed on the location where another would be built.
(Courtesy of Jim Neri)

An attempt to slow the progress of a belvedere project at La Jolla’s Windansea Beach failed this week when the San Diego City Council denied an appeal of the city’s environmental findings Nov. 16.

The appeal, filed by the Preserve Windansea Beach Association, questioned city staff’s determination that the project is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review and that it would have no environmental impact.

The project calls for coastal development and site development permits for a public-private project along the west side of Neptune Place between Westbourne Street and Palomar Avenue. Work would include construction of a belvedere (a shade structure also known as a gazebo) on Neptune near Rosemont Street, along with continuation of post-and-chain barriers and new benches and trash receptacles. The whole project is to be funded by Friends of Windansea.

Members of the Preserve Windansea Beach Association, formed earlier this year by opponents of the belvedere, have said they support repair elements of the project but are against construction of the gazebo, citing concerns about erosion and visual impacts.

San Diego Associate Environmental Planner Courtney Holowach said in a presentation to the City Council that staff determined the appellants did not provide new evidence or sufficient information that conflicts with staff findings and that the project complies with applicable land-use guidelines.

Andrea Rosati, representing PWBA, countered that the project “may impact two environmental resources of critical concern: the sensitive coastal bluff and multi-habitat land area.” She said additional studies should have been conducted and more documentation provided.

PWBA founder Kate Woods said “the San Diego municipal code is here to protect our shoreline parks for everyone, for equity for all, for parks for all, not a few private citizens that want to build on a bluff.”

Woods said the construction would contribute to erosion and block views of the “iconic beach.”

A belvedere at Scripps Park is similar to one planned for Windansea Beach.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

But Jim Neri, a Friends of Windansea member and landscape architect, said, “This project is, first and foremost, a slope protection project” with its repair elements.

Proponents say the construction is a replacement of a belvedere that was torn down in an act of vandalism in 1982. The new belvedere, similar to others that line the La Jolla coast, would be about 9 feet tall, 10 feet long and 6 feet wide and built with historically accurate wood that can withstand oceanside air.

Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, noted that the issue before the council was the environmental determination and not the project itself.

“I have reviewed the material submitted by the appellant, by the staff, the applicant and I’ve listened to today’s testimony. I find no new information has been presented and I find the staff response to the issues raised by the appeal to be complete,” LaCava said.

His motion that the council deny the appeal and approve the environmental determination passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Neri told the La Jolla Light that he was “very pleased” with the council decision.

“We think this is going to be so good for the community,” he said. “Once this all settles, people will think this is great, because people do enjoy the [belvederes] that are remaining along the coast. We did our homework and have the blessing of the community and now the city sees this as a viable project. I’m optimistic we will see this project through.”

The project has been supported by many of La Jolla’s community planning groups since it began circulating at their meetings in 2018.

The concept was approved by the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee in 2018 and La Jolla Parks & Beaches in 2020, with more detailed plans approved by the DPR in February.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association approved the proposal in April.

Neri said the project itself will need to go before the city Planning Commission and the City Council.

PWBA will be waiting. The group said in a statement that though it was disappointed with the council’s decision on the environmental appeal, “we understand this is a process and we look forward to the permit hearings in 2022.”

The association’s “Stop the Gazebo” petition at change.org/stopgazebo has collected 675 signatures as of Nov. 18. ◆