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Unpermitted structures bring legal trouble to Gliderport

David Jebb has launched thousands of hangliding and paragliding flights from his Torrey Pines Gliderport, sending San Diegans and tourists alike soaring over the coastline. Now it’s the future of the Gliderport itself that is up in the air.

A forthcoming settlement between the city, which leases the land at Torrey Pines City Park to Jebb, and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network , a coastal preservation group, could force Jebb to remove unpermitted structures and irrigation at the site and pay legal costs for the city.

The Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network filed a lawsuit against the city because it allowed Jebb to develop the site with an 800-square-foot trailer, a kitchen, concession stand, bathroom and an observatory deck constructed atop two shipping containers without coastal development permits. The structures have been present since the 1980s. The suit also said that Jebb had introduced non-native vegetation to the area, posing a risk to the coastal bluff.

Jebb said that he filed for permits for the structures before he constructed them, but that the city never approved nor denied them. Under the city’s settlement agreement with the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network, Jebb would be required to file the applications again.

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The vegetation and irrigation at the site has also been at issue. Jebb said he has already removed his irrigation systems, but he is not happy about it.

“They’re asking us to turn it into a dirt pit,” he said.

Marcia Hanscom of the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network called Jebb a “rogue lessee” and said the California Coastal Commission shares her concerns about Jebb’s irrigation at the site.

“The bluffs are considered extremely important ecological areas,” Hanscom said. “There are bluffs that have been subject to inundation that have failed and fallen into the ocean. We and the Coastal Commission share the concern that he has got to stop irrigating this land.”

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Jebb said that the grass at his site has actually helped the bluff erode to a lesser degree than those in the surrounding areas. He also said that the landscaping was a matter of safety at the Gliderport, an 8.5-acre site at 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive from which more than 25,000 flights have been launched in the last 10 years.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Jebb said. “If we let the grass die, it’s going to end up turning into ruts like the rest of the surrounding areas that are not planted. (Before the landscaping was installed) a lot of guys were breaking ankles and legs landing in these holes and ruts. We don’t have those kinds of injuries anymore.”

The Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network has also sought to stop the poisoning of squirrels at the Gliderport site. As part of its settlement with the city, the group has asked that the city assign someone from the Parks and Recreation department to more closely oversee the use of Torrey Pines City Park.

“This is public land,” Hanscom said. “The city needs to be more protective of its responsibility to manage it.”

The city agreed to pay $20,000 of the group’s legal fees as part of the settlement, then filed a cross-complaint against Jebb, seeking to force him to comply with the terms of the agreement and pay the fees. Jebb said he had agreed to pay more than $20,000.

Jebb will also have to go through the permitting process for most of the structures on his site. If the permits are not approved, the structures will have to come down.

Hanscom said the city has allowed Jebb to go too far in developing the site.

“The city has really privatized this public park,” she said. “He’s got a pretty significant business there that he keeps expanding. At first it was just a snack shop. It’s amazing, the city gets nothing out of having him running it without any permits.”

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Jebb’s lease with the city is up next year. Hanscom said she hoped the city would look into changing the lessee at the site.

“We will advise the city when the lease runs out to rethink it,” she said.