San Diego hearing officer postpones decision on Bird Rock bluff stabilization plan

The eroded bluff next to 5386 Calumet Ave. is pictured in February 2021.
(Walt Crampton)

A San Diego hearing officer wants more information before ruling on a project intended to stabilize a coastal bluff in Bird Rock.

It was one of two La Jolla projects that went before Patricia Bautista during a virtual meeting Feb. 1. The other — to redevelop a property on La Jolla Scenic Drive North — was approved on the consent calendar without a presentation or discussion.

The project to stabilize a bluff below a house at 5386 Calumet Ave. would clear debris out of a crumbling cave and use 25-foot-wide “erodible concrete” to fill it in to try to match the surface that surrounds it. The material, which doesn’t contain as much cement as its stronger counterpart, is expected to erode at the same rate as the natural bluff.

When the proposal was heard locally last year, the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee and theLa Jolla Community Planning Association both gave their support.

Applicant representative Walt Crampton, principal engineer at TerraCosta Consulting Group, said the site was used as a military coastal defense base during World War II. In the 1950s, some of the debris was discarded into notches in the coastal bluff and the area was covered with gunite, a type of concrete. More than 60 years later, the surface started to crumble and the debris underneath began to show.

A photo simulation depicts the planned repair of a bluff below 5386 Calumet Ave. in Bird Rock.
(Walt Crampton)

The proposal was pulled from LJCPA’s consent agenda for a full review Sept. 1 after Tom Cook of the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego County chapter expressed concerns about whether the project was being “pushed through unnecessarily” and whether the California Coastal Commission needed to be involved.

At Bautista’s meeting, San Diego city staff member Oscar Galvez said city and Coastal Commission representatives had met and “agreed that the applicant would process the consolidated coastal development permit with the California Coastal Commission” because part of the property is under Coastal Commission jurisdiction and the hearing officer was tasked only with reviewing the site development permit portion of the project. A memorandum was written outlining the changes to the review process.

Further, the applicant was required to submit a geotechnical report documenting the need for erosion control measures, identifying the type and design of erosion control necessary to protect the house. The report was reviewed and accepted by the city, Galvez said.

Commenting at the hearing officer meeting, Cook said he was unaware the memo had been created to address the Coastal Commission involvement and said he believed that needed information was missing from the geotechnical report.

Others who attended the meeting asked whether sections of the Land Development Code that were cited in city staff reports were correct.

Crampton and city staff agreed to reword some of the report, and Bautista asked that the report be resubmitted with the modifications before she issues a ruling on the project.

8241 La Jolla Scenic Drive North

A project to renovate a single-story house at 8241 La Jolla Scenic Drive North was approved on consent because there were no speakers in opposition and no questions from Bautista. Her decision is final unless appealed to the San Diego Planning Commission.

In 2021, architect Scott Spencer said 844 square feet would be added to the house, mostly in the back of the property, and a 1,382-square-foot second story would be added. The lot is a quarter-acre (10,185 square feet).

Spencer said the homeowners “have lived there for some time but have not done anything significant to the house. … The house needs to be modernized and updated. The kitchen is small, the bathrooms are small, bedrooms are small and there is no family room.”

Noting that the house is “one of the few and last remaining one-story houses” in the area, Spencer said the proposed overall height is 27½ feet with a second-story stepback and that most of the landscaping will remain as is.

The La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee lent its support to the project in December 2021. ◆