‘Structure’ Ruling Stands: City affirms position on La Jolla artist’s installation as an ‘unpermitted structure’


After two hearings and more than six months of review, the City of San Diego Code Enforcement division has ruled the artistic installation at 6706 Avenida Mañana facing Nautilus Street is an “unpermitted structure.” The piece in question is a 10-foot-tall hut-like installation, which artist and La Jolla resident Nasser Pirasteh has, from the onset, argued is a “sculpture.” Pirasteh has 60 calendar days to move or completely remove the piece and pay administrative costs of $1,143.57 and $5,000 in civil penalties.

Having received notice of the decision over the Labor Day weekend, the artist was not ready to announce his next move. Although he said he was “saddened” by the decision, Pirasteh was not entirely surprised — and is likely not going to appeal.

“The city threw everything but the kitchen sink at us during the Code Enforcement hearings,” he said, referencing administrative reviews in June and July. “I felt like no matter what we said, no matter what evidence we offered, they weren’t going to change their position.”

As such, he said he feels an appeal would be moot. “Who should I appeal to? No one at the city is listening to us. If we have another hearing, there will be another judge and the city will continue to protect their own. I can’t fight this forever. We don’t have the money or power to fight them and keep this going. This is not justice to me, but what can I do?”

In March, Pirasteh received notice that an “unpermitted accessory structure” had been observed in his front yard, and needed to be removed. At that time, he was notified civil penalties may be assessed at a daily rate not to exceed $2,500 per day, not to exceed a total maximum of $250,000. At issue was the construction of a structure in the front yard setback of the property for which Pirasteh had not filed building permits. The artist told La Jolla Light that because he felt he was erecting a sculpture, he did not need building permits.

On June 17, City of San Diego administrative hearing officer James Queenan held a hearing to give Code Enforcement officers the opportunity to present evidence that the installation was an unpermitted accessory structure, and also to listen to testimony from the artist and his supporters arguing the piece is a sculpture. Pirasteh has approximately 90 other uncontested (albeit smaller) sculptures in his yard.

One month later, on July 21, Pirasteh requested a second hearing to present evidence he felt would permit him to keep the installation where it is: a footnote in the San Diego Municipal Code that could reduce the setback of Pirasteh’s yard. If the footnote had applied, the piece would no longer be in violation. However, the city deemed the footnote irrelevant, so they did not investigate the possibility of applicability before the hearing.

“That last hearing was tough because there was only one thing to review, and the city didn’t even bother,” Pirasteh said. “It showed us no matter what we said, they weren’t going to consider it.”

Following the decision, Pirasteh said he did not yet know if he was going to move the piece to another area of the property or demolish it altogether.