ELC and Surfrider Foundation Win Appeal Upholding Seawall Policy in Solana Beach

This week, a California Court of Appeal unanimously upheld carefully crafted land use policies that encourage public access and restrict coastal armoring in the city of Solana Beach.

Coastal armoring, which includes seawalls and bluff retention devices, may protect beachfront homes from coastal erosion in the short term. But armoring ultimately transfers the harm to the shoreline and to the public by narrowing the beach, impeding beach access, and destroying public coastal resources. These impacts are further exacerbated by climate change.

Faced with increasing coastal erosion, the City of Solana Beach spent nearly two decades working with Clinic client Surfrider Foundation and other local constituents to update the city’s coastal development policies.

The amended local coastal land use plan ultimately strikes a balance between the rights of coastal homeowners to protect their homes and the public’s right to access and enjoy the beach. The land use plan requires mitigation fees for coastal armoring and only allows armoring under limited circumstances. Armoring is not permitted for “accessory structures” like playsets or sheds. In line with Coastal Act policy, the land use plan also requires deed restrictions prohibiting seawalls for new development, restricts new private beach-access stairways, and requires that private beach stairways be converted to public stairways if certain conditions are met.

After the land use plan was finalized, a small group of homeowners along the edge of the fragile, 80-foot-high bluff along the City’s coastline sued the City.  The homeowners alleged that these policies violate the Coastal Act and amount to an unconstitutional taking of their property. The Appellate Court disagreed, dismissing the Coastal Act claims on procedural grounds and rejecting the facial constitutional takings challenges.

The ruling in this case upholds critical policies to protect beaches and coastal access in Solana Beach – a win for the City, Clinic client Surfrider Foundation, and the beachgoing public. But with more than 30% of the Southern California coastline heavily armored, and with local and state efforts to phase out armoring and advance better coastal development policies being relentlessly challenged in court, the fight to protect California’s iconic coastline wages on.

For more details, check out the ruling and Surfrider Foundation’s blog.  For more on seawall impacts, check out this report or ELC’s appellate brief in this case.