Meeting to focus on controversial land-use plan

By DAVE SCHWAB. La Jolla Light. La Jolla, Calif.: September 4, 2003.

A special meeting is set for next week to discuss the war of words over language in the La Jolla Community Plan update passed earlier this year by the Coastal Commission.

At issue are 57 amendments to the plan update made by the state commission, calling for more specific language detailing protection of open space, steep hillsides, open space, view corridors and coastal bluffs.

The meeting portends another skirmish pitting environmentalists and residents concerned about growth vs. developers and homeowners concerned about the potential for curtailment of their private property rights. It will be held Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. at the La Jolla Rec Center.

The La Jolla Town Council has come out supporting the Coastal Commission's amendments. A 100-plus member ad-hoc group of local residents called San Diegans for Sensible Land Use, has formed to oppose the Coastal Commission's decision on the plan update.

City Councilman Scott Peters — who also holds a seat on the Coastal Commission — arranged for the special meeting, said Peters' policy adviser, Joe Ross.

"We had something that had been worked on for a very long time and everybody was happy with it," said Ross. "And then it went to the Coastal Commission, and they put on 57 amendments at the very last minute. What we need to do is have a community meeting to look at what's here, what the City Council and the Coastal Commission have approved and see if there are any discrepancies, so everybody can be completely aware of what's in the plan.''

Sherilyn Sarb, district manager for the San Diego Office of the Coastal Commission, balks at opponents' claims that the commission's amendments were done hastily.

"The La Jolla land-use plan has to be certified by the commission because La Jolla is in the coastal zone," Sarb said. "The process the update goes through is the city, then it comes through the commission, and if the commission wants to make changes, they do it through suggested modifications. The idea was that these suggested amendments needed to be made to the plan: That's part of the process. It's what we felt needed to be in the plan to guide development."

Sarb said that the modifications should not be a surprise to anyone, since the commission sent a letter to the city in July 2002 suggesting the changes. She added that the regulations regarding steep hillside and shoreline development have been issues for years in La Jolla.

The Coastal Commission's 2002 letter to the city stated, "Hillside areas within La Jolla should be afforded special protection. ... There should be a minimum blufftop setback mentioned addressing protection of coastal bluffs ... policy language that identifies the extent of improvements that can occur to existing structures, which are non-conforming due to their blufftop setback, and establish a threshold at which the entire structure must be brought into conformance."

"These amendments were made in the middle of the night," said Pallamary. "Only thieves and burglars work in the middle of the night. It got everyone so angry because the community was disenfranchised. The community plan was agreed upon by the community after 12 years of planning. Proposing these amendments smacks the face of all things democratic, all things right. It's an insult to the whole process."

Michael Pallamary of San Diegans for Sensible Land Use said his broad-based group sees the commission's modifications to La Jolla's Community Plan in the update as a violation of the community's trust.

Pallamary added his group has been pressing for discussion of the ramifications of the commission's proposed amendments.

"We just want a public forum discussing these amendments," he said. "If Peters wasn't going to have it, we were."

San Diegans for Sensible Land Use was formed within weeks of the commission's decision. The group now has 110 members and operates a Web site at

The Web site offers a complete list of members and a mission statement, which states the group was formed "to respond to the growing concern that improper land-use decisions and deprivation of private property rights by the California Coastal Commission violates constitutionally protected rights. ..."

Another member of San Diegans for Sensible Land Use, attorney Matt Peterson, likens the Coastal Commission plan amendments to a surgeon who tells the patient of a surgery's consequences only after the procedure is finished.

"I think it's too little, too late," said Peterson. "I'm in favor of the public process, but right now, the City Council can't accept some things and reject some things after the fact."

Peterson said that the courts are going to interpret the modifications as written but, he said, "many of these modifications are far reaching and very adverse to private property rights."

Peterson said his group will give a presentation at the meeting of what they believe the plan update modifications mean.

"If need be," he said, "we will litigate, if the City Council proceeds to go ahead and adopt the modifications to the plan update despite the objections of literally hundreds of property owners. Then, we will file a lawsuit and challenge it in court."

Copyright 2004 La Jolla Light, September 4, 2003

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