The cliff behind a house on Pacific Avenue in Solana Beach collapsed several years ago, dropping the patio and backyard to the beach 40 feet below. (photo taken by Don Bartletti on May 10, 2013)
SOLANA BEACH — Atop the ocean bluff are the homes of those fortunate to own a piece of land overlooking the dramatic California coastline.
Down on the beach are the surfers, swimmers and beachcombers lucky for a sliver of sand that skirts caves and coves in this paradise north of San Diego.
Dividing the two is a crumbling 80-foot cliff that forms a battle line between homeowners who built concrete walls to prevent their houses from sliding into the sea and those who want to put limits on how long they can fend off the waters.
The powerful California Coastal Commission is imposing 20-year caps on permits to build sea walls, setting up a classic debate over public beach access and property rights as sea levels continue to rise and relentless surf threatens to erode a way of life along 1,100 miles of shore.
Since 2010, the agency has set 20-year expiration dates on a private tennis club in Pebble Beach, a 13-unit apartment building in San Diego, two houses in Santa Cruz, a 19-unit apartment building in nearby Capitola, a 260-unit apartment complex in the San Francisco-area town of Pacifica and several homes in Solana Beach and neighboring Encinitas.
While the limits aren’t edicts to tear down walls in two decades and wouldn’t necessarily prevent shoring up fortifications later, they have alarmed homeowners who see a threat to their property.
“There’s going to be a huge dark cloud whether the home can still exist when the period is over,” said Jon Corn, an attorney for homeowners who sued Solana Beach after the city adopted a similar 20-year limit for all new walls on its 1.7 miles of coast.
Three lawsuits are pending in state court to overturn the city’s policy.
Solana Beach could become a model for 75 other cities or counties required to run plans by the Coastal Commission.