La Jolla planners vote to support La Casa de los Amigos replacement project

The La Jolla Community Planning Association views a model of the planned replacement for La Casa de los Amigos.
The La Jolla Community Planning Association views a model of the planned replacement for the house known as La Casa de los Amigos in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa neighborhood.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The Community Planning Association decision for the historic property will proceed to the city of San Diego.


For the team behind a proposal to replace the historically designated La Jolla house known as La Casa de los Amigos, the past eight months have been a rollercoaster of frequent and lengthy meetings, project revisions, votes that were later reexamined and more.

But the local ride seems to have come to an end, with the La Jolla Community Planning Association voting to support the development 12-5 during its July 6 meeting. The findings will proceed to the city of San Diego for additional review and a final decision.

The project calls for the demolition of the nearly 100-year-old blufftop “Friends House” in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa neighborhood and replacing it with a nearly 10,000-square-foot residence.

Attempts at a vote

After multiple reviews without a definitive vote, the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (an LJCPA subcommittee) voted 5-1 during its June 13 meeting to support the project, which the committee decided is consistent with the La Jolla Community Plan. Trustee Angeles Leira cast the lone dissenting vote, and Chairman Brian Will customarily abstained.

However, the following week, the DPR board decided it wanted to reconsider its vote, leaving the Community Planning Association with two options at its July meeting: consider the Development Permit Review Committee’s vote of approval or allow the DPR to revisit its decision.

Opting for the former, LJCPA President Harry Bubbins scheduled the project for a full hearing.

The DPR’s decision to revisit the issue came after receiving a letter from La Jollan Phil Merten arguing that two 22-foot- and 27-foot-tall roof supporting structures labeled as chimneys do not meet the San Diego municipal code definition of a chimney.

Merten also contended that a separate portion of the project described as a roof eave, and therefore exempt from applicable height limits, is not a roof eave.

But Bubbins said the effort to have DPR reconsider its vote would “subvert the vote and decision of the committee, which should only occur in the most extraordinary circumstances.” He added that the proposal to reconsider happened too long after the original vote to be valid.

LJCPA presentation

During the LJCPA hearing, applicant representative Matthew Segal said the current iteration of the project came to be following meetings with preservationists. He said it “retains the original garage structure and the entire frontage of the existing house” to maintain its architecturally and historically significant features “so what people know of the house is retained along the street frontage.”

The latest design also was slightly altered from previous designs to open up a wall and create a line of sight to the ocean from the street, and the home’s overall size was reduced by about 800 square feet from the original 10,567.

But Merten asked that the project be sent back to the DPR.

“For the planning association to maintain its credibility with the city, I think it is imperative that we not recommend approval of projects that are not in compliance with the municipal code,” he said.

Segal asserted that the elements of the project in question were appropriately identified and said he would clarify the way the architectural drawings were labeled.

Questions also arose about whether a view corridor to the ocean where there is a 4-foot-tall gate would be “deed-restricted,” meaning written into the property record.

Segal’s father and business partner, Jonathan Segal, said: “I’m not going to put a deed restriction … at this point in time. But you have my word that if you are over 4-foot-6 and walk past the [view corridor], you will be able to see the ocean.”

Others continued to lament that the original house would not be saved.

But LJCPA member Diane Kane said the applicants “have done the best they can do in a very difficult situation” and told the applicants, “I want to thank both of you for putting up with us and for doing lovely work.”

LJCPA trustee Diane Kane asks questions of Matthew Segal.
LJCPA trustee Diane Kane asks questions of Matthew Segal about the layout of the house that would replace La Casa de los Amigos.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Bubbins said the Segals had made “an enormous amount of effort to accommodate multiple interests.”

A motion to support the project passed 12-5, with trustees Dan Courtney, Larry Davidson, John Fremdling, Zuzana Hostomska and Joe Terry opposed and Bubbins customarily abstaining as president.

The background

The project has been discussed and debated several times since it was originally presented in November, when Matthew Segal said La Casa de los Amigos’ footings and foundation are failing, making it unsafe.

The Segals originally wanted to remodel and preserve the house, which dates to 1924. However, the Local Coastal Program adopted in the 1970s, which serves as a planning document for coastal communities, requires a 40-foot distance between a structure and a bluff.

Matthew Segal said 60 percent of the house — including the living room, dining room, basement, two bedrooms and the dormer — is in the setback area and would need to be removed as part of any renovation.

At the time, Alexander Llerandi, a California Coastal Commission coastal program analyst, said “non-conforming segments should be removed.”

Though the Coastal Commission did not expressly require that the entire house come down, the Segals argued it didn’t make sense to keep it. Thus, they proposed to tear down La Casa de los Amigos and build the new residence, which would be occupied by Jonathan Segal.

In January, the San Diego Historical Resources Board designated the property as historic. Two months later, the Segals decided to move forward with their plans for demolition and new construction, saying possible alternatives had not panned out.

Matthew Segal has said the applicants would provide historical documentation about La Casa de los Amigos and take other measures to help record its notable features. The documents would be saved in an archive likely connected to city historical resources.

On March 14, the Development Permit Review Committee tied in a vote on whether to support the Segals’ project.

The following week, rather than vote on the project itself, the DPR voted to send the Historical Resources Board a list of possible alternatives to demolition:

• Lift the house to build new footings and put the house back in place
• Move the house to a comparable lot
• Preserve the north wing of the house
• Move the whole wing to the front of the house and rebuild on the rest of the available lot

A fifth option, to proceed with the project as presented, also was considered and is ultimately what is being sought.

On April 5, the HRB’s design assistance subcommittee said it was not yet able to make an informed decision about the viability of the alternatives, pending city staff’s review of an engineering report the Segals needed to submit.

Going forward

Matthew Segal said in mid-June that “we are rapidly trying to get [the document issue] resolved, [but] there is a lot more documentation that needs to be completed,” which he said could take months or even a year.

Once the documents are complete, there will be a public comment period for the city to collect additional feedback. ◆