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Coastal Commission fights Pismo Beach over private seawalls

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A conflict between the California Coastal Commission and Pismo Beach could mean that having a beachfront property is more trouble than it's worth for some homeowners.

The state agency appealed the Pismo Beach Planning Commission's approval of coastal development permits that allowed seawalls to be built in front of two separate private residential homes.

COST ON THE COAST James Gentilcore, the owner of the private Pismo Beach residence, would have funded his seawall, but state officials believe it could negatively impact coastal resources. - SCREENSHOT TAKEN FROM THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION PRESENTATION
  • Screenshot Taken From The California Coastal Commission Presentation
  • COST ON THE COAST James Gentilcore, the owner of the private Pismo Beach residence, would have funded his seawall, but state officials believe it could negatively impact coastal resources.

"The applicant at that time accepted and internalized the risk of developing a house in a known hazardous area based on a 100-year evaluation at the time, which was also relied upon by the city. Now, 20 years later, the applicant is telling a different story after an estimated 10 feet of erosion in the time frame," said Dan Carl, the Central Coast district director of the Coastal Commission, at a Dec. 17 meeting.

Carl is referring to applicant James Gentilcore, who received Pismo Beach authorization to build a 120-foot-long and 40-foot-high textured and colored seawall in front of his residence. Pismo Beach residents Tony Hyman and John Okerblom would construct the other seawall in front of their private property. Both barricades would cover entire beach bluffs, which are erosion-prone rounded cliffs that overlook water bodies.

"The seawalls' construction is funded privately by the property owners, but their impacts affect public resources such as beaches and public coastal views. So there is a public cost to their construction," Kevin Kahn, the Coastal Commission's Central Coast district manager, told New Times.

Coastal Commission staff found "substantial issues" with the seawalls, and the appeal transferred the developmental permits from city jurisdiction to the state.

The main objection is that seawalls don't conform to local coastal program (LCP) requirements. LCPs are planning tools used by local governments in partnership with the Coastal Commission to guide development in coastal zones. While the Gentilcore and Hyman-Okerblom residences came into existence in 2003 and 2013, respectively, the LCP only allows shoreline reinforcement to protect structures that have been around since Jan. 1, 1977.

"Not only is the residence not an 'existing principal structure' as the commission understands that term, but the residence was also approved on the basis that it was adequately set back to be safe for at least 100 years, as required by the LCP, without the need for armoring," the Coastal Commission staff report stated.

Kahn told New Times that Pismo Beach doesn't have the authority to challenge the Coastal Commission's decision. They will reach out to both sets of applicants after the holiday season regarding the next steps for their applications. The Coastal Commission will hold a de novo hearing next year to discuss the merits of the development permits. This means that the commission will assess the matter without reference to any legal conclusion Pismo Beach made when it greenlit the permits.

"The project raises issues of regional and statewide significance, given that climate change and sea level rise-related effects (such as coastal erosion) impact the entire coastline, and the issue of how to address them has become a top regulatory and policy priority for the state of California," the staff report said. ∆

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