‘Unsightly’ deteriorated tarp next to Bird Rock property appears to be on its way out

A photo from 2016 shows a tarp covering a bluff next to 417 Sea Ridge Drive in Bird Rock.
A photo from 2016 presented to San Diego hearing officer Duke Fernandez shows a tarp covering unpermitted work on a bluff next to 417 Sea Ridge Drive in Bird Rock.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

A San Diego hearing officer supports permits for a project to remove unpermitted work on a coastal bluff and other steps needed to resolve a years-long code enforcement issue.


An “unsightly” tarp affixed for years to a coastal bluff next to a La Jolla property overlooking Tourmaline Surfing Park may finally be removed following a decision by a San Diego hearing officer.

The hearing officer, Duke Fernandez, heard testimony from members of the public during a meeting July 26 asking that removal of the tarp be included in a list of measures intended to resolve a code enforcement issue resulting from unpermitted work on the bluff.

In 2015, a bluff collapse occurred near a single-family residence at 417 Sea Ridge Drive in Bird Rock, and the homeowner built an unpermitted wall made of sand and concrete to stabilize the bluff. A tarp was added to cover the infill.

The following year, the city issued a notice of violation over the work.

The current project calls for coastal development and site development permits to remove the unpermitted concrete infill. It also includes removing a portion of a planter that was installed within the 5-foot bluff setback area; removing portions of a private walk ramp, drain and site wall encroaching into the public right of way; installing erosion-control netting and hydroseeding along the face of the western slope; and installing a new underground drain, per city standards.

During public comments at the July 26 meeting, Kelsey Pickert, executive committee chairwoman for the Surfrider Foundation of San Diego County and a frequent visitor to Tourmaline Surfing Park, asked that the tarp specifically be included as part of the work violation.

“In the background of all my fondest memories and every photograph I have ever taken there, hanging like a dark cloud has been this large unsightly tarp,” Pickert said.

She added that it is symbolic of “property owners prioritizing their accessory structures over the experiences of people enjoying their right to this public space.”

Other speakers echoed her sentiment.

Harry Bubbins, president of the La Jolla Community Planning Association and founder of Respect Bird Rock, said the site is visible to “thousands of people … that surf, walk their dogs or run.”

“After all these years, we are very glad to see some work on this project and would like to support a project that removes the tarp expeditiously, protects the primary house and bluffs, maintains a clear pathway on the sidewalk and [keeps] any mandated coastal views clear to the public,” he said.

City project manager Xavier Del Valle said the tarp on the bluff “has deteriorated and staff was informed it would be taken down.”

Applicant representative Matthew Khalil, a San Diego attorney, said the homeowner hasn’t yet removed the tarp because “the project is subject to a code enforcement case, so we are unable to make any adjustments or alterations to the project. The sooner we get these permits approved, the sooner we can take down the tarp and proceed.”

Fernandez said “it seems everyone has the same goal in mind — to remove these things that are impacting the bluff,” but he disagreed that permits must be approved before the tarp can be taken down.

“I don’t think the tarp is there legally; it wasn’t part of any erosion-control measures that were approved by the city. It is completely deteriorated and solving nothing,” Fernandez said. “Even if it was part of the code enforcement issue, which it is not, in its condition it would have to be removed.”

He asked that the tarp be removed right away, regardless of the ongoing code enforcement matter.

Khalil said he was worried there would be further repercussions. “The site is encumbered by a code enforcement action, and with every code enforcement action is a cease-and-desist [order]. We are not allowed to touch the site.”

Fernandez countered that “you are not going to get penalized for removing something that is just an eyesore and not solving any erosion issues,” and he repeated that the tarp should be removed.

Fernandez said that because “everyone is on the same page,” he determined that findings can be made to approve the project. He did not expressly add removal of the tarp to the list of actions that must be taken.

His decision proceeds to the San Diego Planning Commission for consideration.

Khalil later told the La Jolla Light that he still had concerns about additional penalties but added that “the tarp is coming down.” ◆