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San Diego Planning Commission denies appeal aimed at blocking Windansea belvedere plan

A photo illustration shows a belvedere similar to the one planned for Windansea superimposed where it would be built.
A photo illustration shows a belvedere similar to the one planned for Windansea superimposed in the location where it would be built.
(Courtesy of Jim Neri)

Another attempt to halt a plan to build a belvedere (also known as a gazebo) failed June 23 when the San Diego Planning Commission unanimously denied an appeal by the Preserve Windansea Beach Association.

The plan 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 in La Jolla. Work would include construction of the belvedere shade structure on Neptune near Rosemont Street, along with continuation of post-and-chain barriers and replacement of two concrete bench pads.

The whole project is to be funded by Friends of Windansea. The project’s backers say the structure would replace a belvedere that was built in the 1920s and torn down in the 1980s in an apparent act of vandalism.

Members of the Preserve Windansea Beach Association, formed last year by opponents of the belvedere, say they support repair elements of the project but are against construction of the gazebo.

They said they plan to continue the fight with an appeal to the California Coastal Commission.

A similar appeal was filed with a San Diego hearing officer, who in April ruled in favor of the project. In November, the San Diego City Council denied an appeal by Preserve Windansea Beach of the city’s determination that the project is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review and would have no significant environmental impact.

As with similar appeals, those against construction of the belvedere called it a “nuisance” and an “eyesore.”

Representing the Preserve Windansea Beach Association, Suzanne Baracchini said the city and Friends of Windansea have not maintained Windansea, posing a public safety hazard, and would not be able to maintain an additional structure. She also questioned Friends of Windansea’s financial stability.

Other residents argued that the belvedere would draw crime to the area. Opponents also have expressed concerns that the belvedere could damage the bluffs, attract parties and/or homeless people and lead to increased trash in the area.

Opponents of the proposed Windansea belvedere say it would experience erosion similar to this at other La Jolla belvederes.
(Courtesy of Preserve Windansea Beach Association)

Landscape architect and Friends of Windansea member Jim Neri argued for the project, telling commissioners that the belvederes that dot parts of La Jolla’s coast contribute to the community’s “cultural fabric” and that Friends of Windansea has executed other projects “from concept to completion” and is capable of doing so with this project. He said the Friends — formed in 1997 as an ad-hoc group of beach-goers and residents to make improvements to the area that would slow erosion — drafted a plan that included creation of a parking lot and beach access stairs that the city approved in 2000.

“This project is about protecting our bluffs and making improvements that are consistent with what we’ve already done and maintained,” he said. “The structure is good for the community, good for the city and part of our heritage.”

Others said the belvedere would provide shaded access to the beach for people with physical limitations.

To ensure maintenance of the structure, the city plans to enter an agreement with Friends of Windansea, but details have not been determined.

During commissioners’ comments, Ken Malbrough said the beach is “a public facility and belongs to the citizens. The neighborhood should have input, but it has to work for the citizens.”

Saying he wished the groups could work together to find a solution, he moved to deny the appeal and support the project.

In seconding the motion, Commissioner Dennis Otsuji said: “This is not an underserved community — you have great resources and you need to work together. This stretch of beach is one of the most beautiful in the world. ... We need to have a lot of care given, but it takes an effort by all to do that.”

Others expressed confidence that the city could handle the maintenance of the belvedere if it is built.

Following the vote, Neri told the La Jolla Light that Friends of Windansea is pleased with the denial of the appeal and “we look forward to our continued public-private partnership with the city of San Diego, with the support of the La Jolla community, to spend precious private donations on actual improvements instead of fighting baseless appeals.”

However, Preserve Windansea Beach intends to file an appeal with the Coastal Commission, its last opportunity to block the project.

The association said in a statement that the planning commissioners based their decision on “inaccurate statements and erroneous financial statements of [Friends of Windansea]. FOW have hoodwinked the community into thinking they have been the long-term caretakers of Windansea. The poorly placed benches, fencing and stairways are rotten and sliding off the bluff. FOW chose not to spend funds on hand to fix these problems but will now spend in excess of $100,000 to build a belvedere at Windansea. … They have created yet another burden for the city of San Diego, who cannot repair or restore the belvederes at Scripps Park.”

FOW has estimated the belvedere’s construction cost at $24,000. Preserve Windansea Beach’s cost estimate includes additional permit and consulting fees.

Neri said Preserve Windansea Beach’s estimate is inaccurate, mostly because it includes costs associated with the appeals and doesn’t factor in that Neri’s company, Neri Landscape Architecture, is working on the project for free.

“We will be updating pricing,” Neri said.

The belvedere proposal has been supported by many of La Jolla’s community planning groups since it began circulating in 2018.

The concept was approved by the Development Permit Review Committee in 2018 and the Parks & Beaches board in 2020, with more detailed plans approved by the DPR in February 2021.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association supported the plan in April 2021.

However, an online petition at Change.org seeking to stop the belvedere construction has collected more than 680 signatures as of June 25. ◆

Updates

9:28 a.m. June 27, 2022: This article has been updated with additional comments.

1:12 p.m. June 25, 2022: This article has been changed to update the contents of the overall project and clarify the cost estimates for the belvedere.