Coastal Commission determines ‘delightful’ Windansea belvedere project in La Jolla can proceed
The state panel denies an appeal by the Preserve Windansea Beach Association, which has argued repeatedly against the gazebo. The structure would replace one missing since the 1980s.
The hearing was years in the making, but the California Coastal Commission took only a half-hour to lend its support to a controversial project to build a belvedere, or gazebo, at Windansea Beach in La Jolla.
The commission on June 8 heard an appeal of the project filed by the Preserve Windansea Beach Association that argued the belvedere would be atop an eroding bluff and could create public risk if the bluff or gazebo falls. The organization also contended the gazebo would obstruct ocean views from the sidewalk and attract additional traffic to an already popular beach area.
The Coastal Commission unanimously determined the appeal did not raise any substantial issues and that the project could proceed.
Preserve Windansea, formed in early 2021 by opponents of the belvedere, had filed similar appeals with the San Diego City Council, a San Diego hearing officer and the San Diego Planning Commission, all of which were denied.
Coastal Program Analyst Alexander Llerandi said Coastal Commission staff concluded that the belvedere project and San Diego’s approval of a permit appear to be “in conformance with all requirements.”
The permit, he said, authorizes construction of an approximately 63-square-foot blufftop belvedere on Neptune Place near Rosemont Street, as well as installation of about 1,800 feet of post-and-rope fencing along the sidewalk on the west side of Neptune between Westbourne Street and Palomar Avenue bordering Windansea Beach park. It also authorizes relocation of two public benches and the supporting concrete pads.
The whole project is to be funded by Friends of Windansea, which previously has estimated the belvedere’s construction cost at $24,000. 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.
Addressing the claims made in Preserve Windansea’s appeal, Llerandi said the belvedere would be built “10 feet back from the bluff edge, not the bluff face … and the gazebo will be removed if future coastal risk arises.”
Given its open-air design, the gazebo will not block views, he added. The gabled roof “will be a minor visual impediment while providing a new shaded viewpoint for the public to sit and enjoy,” Llerandi said.
Representing the Preserve Windansea Beach Association, land-use consultant Chandra Slaven told the commission that the project “represents critical issues impacting communities throughout the coast” and asked the commission to re-examine the project under new parameters.
She argued that the city used outdated policies to approve the project and that the belvedere was erroneously called an “accessory structure” and permitted as such. “Accessory to what?” she asked. “How does this apply to a public access structure?”
Slaven also said the belvedere should be set further from the beach.
Other speakers opposed to the project said the area is subject to coastal erosion that would be accelerated by the gazebo’s construction. They noted there was no gazebo there for 40 years and said one is not needed.
But several commissioners stated their support for the development.
Karl Schwing, director of the San Diego Coast District, said he sees the project as “beneficial from an erosion control standpoint” in that the fencing better delineates walking paths and encourages users to use stairs rather than makeshift paths.
“We view the gazebo as a nice public amenity … that you see in other La Jolla beach areas,” such as Scripps Park, he said.
Commissioner Dayna Bochco commended staff for “bringing out all the facts on this one. This seems like a delightful project that will do very little harm and a lot of good.”
Commissioner Paloma Aguirre said “it’s important to have amenities that serve everyone, both the community and people visiting that … beautiful coastline.”
It “doesn’t get any better” than having a seating area in the shade, Aguirre added.
Following the panel’s decision, the Preserve Windansea Beach Association said in a statement: “Although our appeal was denied, we have learned valuable information and made great inroads at the Coastal Commission and the city of San Diego, laying a foundation for future Preserve Windansea projects.
“We hope Friends of Windansea will now accept our offer from two years ago to work collaboratively to create a beach that is safe, sustainable and something we can all be proud of. Our door is always open.”
Friends of Windansea member and landscape architect Jim Neri told the La Jolla Light that Friends of Windansea is “grateful for the support from all of our community advisory groups, the city of San Diego, the San Diego Planning Commission and the California Coastal Commission for this opportunity to reset the gem of the Windansea belvedere back where it belongs, in the necklace of our beloved beach parks!”
Friends of Windansea member Melinda Merryweather said “bringing back the belvedere for everyone is probably one of my favorite accomplishments. It took a village! And we were so blessed to have so many amazing people supporting us over these years. We can finally take care of the years of erosion on the bluffs and other much-needed repairs.”
Neri added that Friends of Windansea would use the summer coastal construction moratorium — from Memorial Day to Labor Day — to finalize the project plans and raise additional funds.
In addition to the Coastal Commission and the city, the belvedere proposal has been supported by many of La Jolla’s community planning groups since it began circulating in 2018.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association supported the plan in April 2021. ◆
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