La Jolla’s ocean views aren’t being adequately protected, local committee says
Out of 120 applicable coastal properties studied in Lower Hermosa and Bird Rock, only 16 had a recorded coastal view corridor easement to preserve clear views to the ocean, the LJCPA panel reports.
After a year of work, a La Jolla Community Planning Association ad-hoc committee has reported some discoveries about the “failed” protection of local view corridors that it considers startling.
View corridors are unobstructed views to the ocean from the nearest public road that “shall be preserved and enhanced, including visual access across private coastal properties at yards and setbacks,” according to the La Jolla Community Plan and Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan.
The documents recommend that the city of San Diego “ensure that residential projects along the coastal bluff maintain yards and setbacks as established by ... applicable regulations ... in order to form view corridors and to prevent a walled-off appearance from the street to the ocean.”
However, Joe Terry, an ad-hoc committee member and Community Planning Association trustee, said that is not happening.
“La Jolla’s coastal view corridors are valuable to the residents, visitors and business community,” he said. “The two main tools to protect these view corridors are to establish easements across private property from the first public road to the ocean, and the second is to enforce those easements. There have been problems with both of those steps.”
In an easement, a property owner cannot install structures, walls, signs or plants or do anything else that would cause an obstruction to a clear view of the shoreline or ocean.
Terry gave a year-end report to the LJCPA board last week after meeting with representatives of various city departments and submitting the committee’s findings last month.
LJCPA President Diane Kane said that with many remodels, the view corridors “are not preserved or get filled in after the fact with no code enforcement. So there are a number of places in which this program has failed and failed spectacularly.”
The result, she said, is “you could drive down any residential street on the coast and it’s a wall of construction or vegetation or both. We’re trying to get a handle on them, get them mapped, let the owners know they are responsible for this and make sure the city stays on top of this.”
Terry focused his report on Lower Hermosa and Bird Rock, where, out of 120 applicable properties, only 16 had a recorded coastal view corridor easement as of June 2021. “That was a bit of a surprise,” he said.
In September this year, the committee visited all 16 properties and found that only one had a view corridor that was unobstructed on one or both sides.
“Many had obstructions on both sides,” he said. The blockages included landscaping, walls, fences and other structures.
“It appears they are not established when they should be and they aren’t enforced when they are [recorded],” he said. “The problem with enforcement is, if you are not aware of where the easements are and the specifics of them, it’s hard for staff and the public to help enforcement.”
Terry said the committee believes as many as 20 additional properties are “candidates” for view corridor easements.
Terry said the committee would draft an informational bulletin on coastal view corridor easements; identify possible changes to the municipal code that could improve the definition, establishment and enforcement of coastal view corridor easements; identify procedural actions that LJCPA can take to address the problems; identify alternatives for helping the city develop a central repository for coastal view corridor easements accessible in a variety of ways, including from the city’s geographic mapping database; and provide photos of violations of coastal view corridor easement requirements.
He said city representatives seemed amenable to those steps during a meeting last month.
Steve Hadley, a representative of City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, attended the LJCPA board meeting and did not comment.
“It is a step in the right direction,” Terry said. “Only time will tell how far it will take us. The committee was heard and the work will be accepted in future staff training and remedies, and there is potential for further Development Services Department and LJCPA collaboration on both the information bulletin and code changes.”
Resident Sally Miller said other local groups had been working on the view issue for 30 years and that it’s “good to see new names on the list of people involved in this longtime problem.”
Though the group is an ad-hoc committee that was not intended to be permanent, Kane wondered whether it should be made a standing subcommittee given the additional work to be done.
“My vision for this committee is, [having] documented and assessed everything, we need to look at clarifying the code as to what exactly is a view corridor, because there are a number of definitions and how they are recorded in easements,” she said.
The language has shifted over time, Kane said, as has the code and its definition of a corridor.
“There are steps that need to occur for everyone to be on the same page and more institutionalized,” she said. “We have the pieces; we just need to put them together.” ◆
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