California Coastal Commission withholds vote on La Jolla home project

A rendering shows a home project planned for 6340 Camino de la Costa in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Lauren Williams)

After more than an hour of discussion, the California Coastal Commission this week postponed a vote on a planned home development in La Jolla, prolonging the review process for a project five years in the making.

Commission staff recommended denying the proposal to renovate a one-story, 5,524-square-foot single-family residence with a basement and two detached garages into a two-story, 8,916-square-foot residence on a 1.37-acre blufftop lot at 6340 Camino de la Costa.

At issue is an existing retaining wall that has been classified as a mechanism for erosion control located 25 feet from the bluff edge. The Local Coastal Program — which serves as a planning document for coastal communities — requires that seawalls be at least 40 feet from the bluff.

“The LCP identifies four categories of environmentally sensitive land, one of which is coastal bluffs, and prohibits almost all private development on them to protect them from degradation,” coastal program analyst Alex Llerandi said at the Coastal Commission’s Aug. 10 meeting. “The LCP likewise requires bluff setbacks … as well as establish a consistent pattern of development by stepping back the bulk and scale of development.”

He noted that the property covers two parcels, “leaving more than adequate space for a sizable residence while still adhering to the LCP’s setback [of 40 feet].”

However, applicant representative Chandra Slavin said commission staff erred in calling the retaining wall a mechanism for shoreline protection. By being classified as such, it must follow the LCP’s guidelines on how far it must be from the bluff edge.

“The retaining wall is located between 100 and 180 feet from the mean high-tide line,” Slavin said. “Staff’s attempt to redefine a retaining wall as shoreline protection ignores the facts and opinions provided by numerous experts. It is apparent that staff has neglected their ministerial duties by relying on inaccurate information to support a recommendation to deny approval.”

Standing by the staff report, Coastal Commission San Diego District Director Karl Schwing said “the bluff wall is a protective device. Staff made our position clear in [a] 2018 comment letter.” He added that staff does not support keeping the retaining wall where it is.

Talon Powers, representing a group opposed to the development, argued that the project violates the California Coastal Act, the LCP and the San Diego municipal code and that there is “no reason” the project couldn’t be moved farther from the bluff.

An overview of the property at 6340 Camino de la Costa, as presented to the California Coastal Commission.
(Courtesy of Lauren Williams)

Commission Chairwoman Donne Brownsey said that if the applicants redesigned the project to be 40 feet from the bluff edge and made other modifications, it could return to the commission for approval. Otherwise, should the commission proceed with a “no” vote, the project review would have to start over.

Opting for the former, the applicant team decided to continue the hearing to a future meeting. Slavin asked for a date certain, but Brownsey noted that “there are quite a number of pressing items in our queue.” She said the commission would try to docket the project in coming months.

The commission’s next meetings are scheduled for Sept. 7-9 and Oct. 12-14. The October meeting will be in San Diego.

The Camino de la Costa project was approved by the La Jolla Community Planning Association in November 2017.

In May 2020, the Coastal Commission determined that the project raised “a substantial issue with regard to conformity of development in an area subject to future coastal hazards,” according to a staff report.

The applicant revised the project and went before the commission in November 2021. The panel continued the item to a future hearing after expressing concerns about bluff impacts from runoff from the site, according to the staff report.

The applicant then reverted to the original, locally approved proposal. ◆