Marco Gonzalez, Bruce Reznik, Richard Miller and James Peugh; Gonzalez is chair of the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter. Reznik is executive director of San Diego BayKeeper. Miller is chair of the Sierra Club, San Diego Chapter. Peugh is conservation chair of the San Diego Audubon Society.

November 22, 2003

 After nearly a decade of hard work by the community and environmental representatives on behalf of the coast, the San Diego City Council has voted to adopt La Jolla's Coastal Plan. We are truly grateful for Council member Scott Peters' leadership and the supporting comments and votes cast by Council members Michael Zucchet, Toni Atkins, Donna Frye and Mayor Dick Murphy.  All five decision-makers stood firm despite significant controversy about the plan.

Their votes in support secured a 15-year-overdue update to the La Jolla plan that will protect the character of the La Jolla community and preserve our natural resources for future generations.  This is important because the history of development in La Jolla has not been exemplary.  Prior to height limits, enormous box-like condo buildings were permitted to be developed along our coastline.  Even today, we see huge homes, and sometimes mansions, built right next to coastal bluffs, blocking public views and requiring armoring of the coastline with sea walls and gunite.  Not only are these walls unsightly, but they hasten beach erosion, leaving less recreation space for the public.

The La Jolla real estate industry, in particular a group calling itself San Diegans for Sensible Land Use, led the opposition to the plan for protecting the coast.  They implemented a public relations campaign that sought to scare many La Jolla residents into thinking that their property rights would be taken from them.  Listening to their specious rhetoric, one would have the impression that the plan would totally change the character of La Jolla and put a stop to all renovation, expansion and development.

Contrary to their allegations, the update is not a new and unfair set of restrictions being placed on La Jolla residents by the Coastal Commission.  Rather, it is a document created out of compromise by many people in the community over the last several years.  It does not change any densities, zoning designations, setback requirements or height requirements.

The plan does, however, result in a number of very positive changes.  It allows large new homes that meet setback requirements, while closing the loopholes that permit major expansion of existing homes that do not meet code requirements.  It also requires bluff-side homeowners, not the public, to bear the financial risk of the failure of bluffs caused by their developments, and it imposes reasonable requirements to allow public views already included in city law.

The new plan also clarifies confusion over what development is allowed.  For example, with La Jolla's plan not having been updated in almost 20 years, new laws and regulations have continued to be passed that have created a confusing hodgepodge of land use regulation.

In fact, the town is governed by the city's Land Development Code, the California Coastal Act and four different local plans.  The coastal plan adopted by the council on Nov. 11 consolidates all of these regulations and gives property owners regulatory certainty while establishing a clear vision for the future of La Jolla that preserves its distinct community character and protects the coastline.

It is important to note that most of the people who testified in opposition to the plan appeared to have more to say about their dislike for the Coastal Commission than the proposed plan.

In 1972, the voters of California, alarmed at the scale and pace of development along our state's coastline, passed an initiative to create the California Coastal Commission.  The voters assigned the commission board authority to "protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations." Four years later, the passage of the California Coastal Act made the commission permanent.

Since its creation, the commission has been our best protection against the wasteful overdevelopment of our coast.  The Coastal Commission seeks to act in the best interest of all Californians and not just the special interests in a specific area, and for that we are grateful.

Planning wisely benefits the community, but ultimately, individuals will also benefit when we ensure that homes are built safely and we have protected our most valuable natural asset -- our coast and its unparalleled beauty.

The San Diego Union-Tribune (Print Edition)