State commission to consider appeal of Romneys’ home rebuild and beach ownership issue

Architectural rendering of Mitt and Ann Romney’s proposed La Jolla home, as it would appear from Dunemere Drive. Courtesy Island Architects
Architectural rendering of Mitt and Ann Romney’s proposed La Jolla home, as it would appear from Dunemere Drive. Courtesy Island Architects

Coastal Commission hears appeal of Dunemere Dr. home rebuild


8:30 a.m. Oct. 11


Crowne Plaza Hotel, 2270 Hotel Circle North, San Diego


By Pat Sherman

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) will consider an appeal of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plans to demolish his La Jolla home and rebuild a larger residence there, during a hearing on Oct. 11 in Mission Valley.

Mitt Romney and wife, Ann, are seeking to demolish their existing 3,009-square-foot home at 311 Dunemere Drive (once owned by former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor) to construct a new, two-story residence of 11,062-square feet. The project includes excavation for a 3,668-square foot basement and subterranean garage.

Coastal and site development permits for the project were unanimously approved by San Diego’s Planning Commission on June 27. However, on July 24, architect and former Dunemere Drive resident Tony Ciani filed an appeal of the coastal development permit with the coastal commission.

Ciani, who now resides in Pacific Grove and is known to La Jollans for his appeal of the 1991 Green Dragon Colony demolition and efforts to preserve beach access, contends that the Romneys are erroneously claiming ownership of the beach in front of their property to inflate their lot size, thus increasing the size of the home they are allowed to rebuild on it.

(Click on map to enlarge.)

Ciani said a map on page 175 of the La Jolla Community Plan shows that this section of the beach is either “dedicated or owned in fee by the city.”

“Did Mitt Romney buy the beach? I don’t think so,” Ciani said. “If he didn’t buy the beach and he doesn’t own it, then he can’t use it for the purposes of his development — and those purposes are to enhance, inflate and balloon the size of his house to be bigger than it would be if he just owned it to the westerly boundary line of the original (Barber Tract) subdivision.”

Ciani said the Romneys’ plans do not conform with the La Jolla Community Plan, nor San Diego’s land development code.

The Romneys’ attorney, Matt Peterson, called Ciani’s appeal “frivolous and misleading.”

“The city and the coastal commission staff has reviewed all of his appeals,” Peterson said, noting that CCC staff found “no substantial issues” to warrant the appeal in a


it prepared in advance of the Oct. 11 hearing.

“This hearing is hopefully the end of it and the project will be done with the permitting process,” Peterson said, adding that the map showing the city owns the beach adjacent the Romneys was “in error.”

However, Ciani said, if the map is a mistake, it should have been amended prior to the LJCPA recommending approval of the project.

The Romneys hired local land surveyor Michael Pallamary to determine their property boundaries, as well as the location of the mean high tide line (which Ciani argues should have been determined by the State Lands Commission).

Peterson said Pallamary’s survey, as well as a certificate of compliance recorded with the county on May 15 (requested by the city’s former Development Services Department director), establishes the Romneys’ lot size and property boundaries — which Peterson said includes 6,000 square feet of adjacent beach.

“It goes out pretty far,” he said. “Basically, it’s about to where the beach in the summer crests and starts to drop down to the water.”

Peterson said the inclusion of the beach area “did not affect the design or the proposed location of the new home in terms of required setbacks,” and that the new home is actually 1,400 square feet smaller than what is allowed under current zoning.

The beach in front of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's home as seen on a busy holiday weekend in 2012. File
The beach in front of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's home as seen on a busy holiday weekend in 2012. File

“Any minor adjustment in the ‘exact’ location of the mean high tide line in either direction would not result in the proposed home being over the allowed floor area ratio,” he said.

To obtain the coastal development permit, the Romneys are required to dedicate their portion of the beach for public use by recording an easement stating that it is for public access and “passive recreation.” It would “preserve, in perpetuity, the public’s right of access and recreation,” Peterson said.

Ciani said fears that the term “passive recreation” could allow the Romneys to restrict beach access in the future.

“I’ve never seen the adjective ‘passive’ used in a condition,” he said. “(CCC) staff makes a point that the City of San Diego … doesn’t normally, and maybe never have, used the term ‘passive’ in a condition. So, this time, the city is using it? Why? … I feel like this is a step toward privatization — like, hey, no volleyball in front of my house.”

The San Diego Municipal Code definition of passive recreation is as follows: “Recreational facilities associated with pastimes that are incidental to natural open space. These facilities require minor land


(city’s emphasis) for installation, require minimum maintenance, do not attract large assemblages of people, and have little impact on natural open space.”

The CCC staff report states that Ciani’s arguments “do not raise an issue because … the kinds of public use expected and engendered when public access easements are recorded is the same type of usage that occurs on a public beach that has always been open to the public: running, sunbathing, swimming, recreational sports, etc. … No unreasonable limits on public usage are foreseen, and indeed usage will be protected by the recordation of the easement.”

In his appeal, Ciani also argues that the sea wall adjacent to the Romneys’ property requires the filing of a “standard waiver and assumption of risk,” because storms have eroded the beach and bluffs, and rising sea levels pose a risk to the new home. He also said the proposed home’s bulk and scale is out of character with the surrounding community.

Peterson countered that of 21 houses within a 300-foot radius of the Romneys’ property, “18 of them are two-story, six are three-story (including Ciani’s own former Dunemere Drive home) and two are one-story.”

In their report, CCC staff says that “after reviewing the city file and other relevant information” it “determined that the proposed home is in scale and character with the surrounding community, meets the city’s requirement for calculation of floor area ratio, will be safe from wave action, does not adversely impact public access … and is not currently a historical structure.”

Coastal commissioners will weigh their staff’s recommendation and further testimony by Ciani and Peterson during the Oct. 11 hearing.

If the commissioners find the appeal has merit, they’ll schedule it to be heard again at a future date.