West Coast
Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG

Coastal Commission orders California homeowners to remove yards from public beach

Some encroachments reach 80 feet into the sand ..

The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 unanimously rejected a request from the city of Newport Beach to allow more than 55 beachfront homeowners to landscape and place outdoor furniture up to 15 feet onto the public beach. Such unpermitted landscaping and furniture now extends as much as 80 feet onto the beach on the ocean side of Balboa PeninsulaÕs east end, also known as Peninsula Point, near the Wedge.

Some 55 Newport Beach homeowners who’ve extended their yards as much as 80 feet onto the public beach must return those areas to their natural state, the state Coastal Commission decided Wednesday in a unanimous vote.

After years of unpermitted beachfront encroachments on the east end of the Balboa Peninsula, the city requested that the commission allow the homeowners to keep extensions of up to 15 feet toward the ocean. Those encroachments include lawns, shrubs, ground cover and lawn furniture, and the city’s proposal would have also allowed patios and seawalls.

The commission agreed with its staff that the intrusions served as privatization of public beach in an area known as Peninsula Point — just west of the famous Wedge surf spot — and was counter to the commission’s mission of ensuring public beach access.

“I’m quite flabbergasted by the audaciousness of this,” Commissioner Linda Escalante said at the San Luis Obispo meeting. “It’s like squatting by the rich. Approving this will condone private use of public property.”

City consultant Don Schmitz argued that the proposed 15-foot encroachment limit was a relatively small portion of a broad beach that reaches as much as 600 feet from the ocean, that it would reduce the size of numerous existing intrusions and that it would follow similar rules to those approved by the commission in 1991 for the west end of the Peninsula.

The city proposed mitigating the Peninsula Point encroachments by charging fees to the beachfront homeowners that would be used for public amenities such as disabled beach access, improved lifeguard vehicle access, new bike racks and waste receptacles and a new lifeguard tower.

But Coastal Commission staff questioned the $300,000 Schmitz said the fees would generate annually, instead estimating the revenue at $60,000. Additionally, commission Deputy Director Karl Schwing said the city had other revenue sources to pay for those improvements.

Commissioners were similarly unimpressed by the proposed mitigations.

“What little public good would occur is minimal compared to the windfall the private property owners would receive,” Commissioner Donne Brownsey said.

Schmitz said the city would respect the commission’s decision and apply for permits within 60 days to remove the encroachments.

Sea level rise

The commission’s 1991 approval of west-end encroachments of 10 to 15 feet where there is no boardwalk was to address existing intrusions that may have existed before the 1976 Coastal Act, according to commission staff. The commission has little enforcement authority over development that occurred before the Coastal Act.

Peninsula Point was not approved for encroachments along with the west end in 1991 because of concerns over public access, Schwing said. Since then, the city has not taken enforcement action against the unpermitted beach intrusions.

Since 1991, additional concerns have arisen over habitat for the endangered Western snowy plover, which roosts in the sand in the area, and sea-level rise, Schwing said. That’s especially true given the regions’ growing population.

“As more people seek to use receding beaches, more people will use the area near homes,” he said.

City consultant Schmitz countered by saying sea-level rise would be minimal over the next decade and proposed allowing the encroachments for 10 more years. The commission showed no interest in the idea.

Environmentalists addressing the commission also alleged other Coastal Act violations on the Balboa Peninsula, including 21 unpermitted walkways onto the beach. Escalante asked commission staff about those claims.

“There are some issues out there that our enforcement staff is looking into,” Schwing said.

Related links

See Mercury News article . . .