Having endured my first Coastal Commission hearing on May 21 in Los Angeles, I feel the need to communicate the tenor of their decisions to San Diego area residents.
Local San Diego commission staff makes excellent studies of and recommendations on San Diego project applications. The 11-member Coastal Commission, however, voted against staff recommendations on all of the cases that I heard, often belittling the staff's technical responses to complicated questions.
Loma Santa Fe developers from Solana Beach come armed with eight hired technical experts and paraphernalia to present a large bluff development on the northeast corner of Via de la Valle and San Andres. Commissioner George Shipp III objected to their intention to grade away 600,000 cubic yards of earth, then spray the graded sites with a landscaping "super glue" and plunk down 160 homes. This is hardly consistent with Local Coastal Plan regulations to protect slopes greater than 25%. The project passed easily, 8 to 3, over Mr. Shipp's and staff's objections.
The commission proceeded to grant a protective sea wall to duplexes on the beach at 18th Street in Del Mar. The sea wall is farther out on the beach than the City of Del Mar permits; there are no other sea walls at 18th Street, and the city is threatened with litigation over sea walls. Yet the application passed 10-0.
Next, a homeowner in Moonlight Beach, Encinitas was granted a permit to put a second story on his home, 17 feet from the edge of the bluff, in an area where regulations call for a 25-foot setback and where there are no other second stories. It passed easily 9-1 over staff's objections. Furthermore, they did nothing about the illegal riprap at the bottom of his bluff.
Finally, Dorothy Doan was allowed to build the first hotel in the San Dieguito River Valley, despite slides that showed her property to be completely under water in the 1980 flood. Arguments that this hotel would set a precedent for the several hotels, commercial complexes and industrial parks currently waiting in the wings, were to no avail. Mayor Arlene Carsten of Del Mar spoke of the project as an appropriate and beautiful development. Five opponents and their 88 letters in opposition from local people were discourteously tolerated. The 10-1 vote was a bad omen that we may be on our way to another Mission Valley.
Is this the same Coastal Commission that we entrusted with protecting bluffs, beaches, sensitive slopes and wetlands? Evidently not. Governor Deukmejian made a campaign promise to get rid of the commission; instead, he appointed enough uncaring commissioners to totally discredit it. Developers, with their armies of "experts," large maps and expensive photographs, have no trouble floating through their developments, while the unprofessional commissioners (especially Donald A. McInnis and Thomas J. McMurray Jr.) belittle the average neighborhood citizen who nervously presents his case. Locals, beware: take charge of your local governments, because there is no higher recourse except for the courts.
ALICE A. GOODKIND