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S.D. commission OKs after-the-fact permit for mound of fallen bluff compiled near La Jolla’s Mushroom House

The photo of the Mushroom House on the right shows the mound of bluff material that was compiled without a permit.
Two photos presented to the San Diego Planning Commission show the so-called Mushroom House in La Jolla. The photo on the right shows the mound of bluff material (behind the orange fence) that was compiled without a permit.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

After a brief discussion, the San Diego Planning Commission lent its support Oct. 13 to an after-the-fact site development permit for moving some fallen coastal bluff material near the so-called Mushroom House on La Jolla’s Black’s Beach.

The permit was deemed necessary after a bluff failure above the house in 2020 sent more than 100 cubic yards of material down around the vacant seaside landmark and damaged the tram system that connects the Mushroom House to the home above it at 9044 La Jolla Shores Lane. Mushroom House owner Buzz Woolley moved some of the material to a mound so it could be naturally distributed through wind, rain and waves, but he did so without a permit.

A complaint was filed with the city, which issued a stop-work order that stated a permit was needed.

La Jolla's Mushroom House is pictured in February.
(Adam Grofcsik)

With few questions from planning commissioners at their Oct. 13 meeting, the matter turned to the public.

“There have been a number of natural bluff failures over the years, and typically what [Woolley] does is get a couple of guys with wheelbarrows and wheels it down the dirt path,” said attorney Matt Peterson, representing the owner. “This case was a bigger slide … that brought a large amount of material and … was endangering the Mushroom House and the public. It was a dangerous situation to leave it as it was.”

San Diego resident and Surfrider Foundation volunteer Tom Cook said he agreed that the sand coming off the bluff “needs to stay on that beach” but took issue with referring to the project as protecting a “primary residence.”

“This is not a primary residence; no one is living there,” Cook said. “Obviously, it is an iconic part of San Diego and something we should work to protect … but are the conditions to be placed on the permits? There is going to be a lot of wave action; is the house going to need a seawall? I would urge the commission to think about how they are addressing this structure. It is not something that in today’s world would be able to be built on the California coastline.”

San Diego Planning Commissioner Dennis Otsuji
San Diego Planning Commissioner Dennis Otsuji speaks in favor of granting an after-the-fact permit for moving some bluff material near La Jolla’s Mushroom House.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Commissioner Dennis Otsuji asked if there are any plans for the property to be lived in or developed. Peterson said Woolley “does utilize it” but that there are “no future plans right now” and the owner is “looking at various options.”

Otsuji moved to approve a staff recommendation to support the after-the-fact permit, and it passed unanimously.

In January 2021, the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee also unanimously supported the after-the-fact permit.

At the time, Peterson said bluff collapses above Black’s Beach happen “all the time” and are part of natural beach replenishment in that the fallen material gets pulverized by the ocean into sand. ◆