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Is Mitt Romney's La Jolla home fair game for a column? But of course.

The 2016 presidential race is on, and Mitt Romney's beach remodel is fair game

If there was any doubt that the 2016 presidential campaign is already upon us, all you had to do was read about the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in Coronado over the weekend.

Not only did political reporters write reams about Mitt Romney’s last-minute appearance, but newspapers also wrote the sort of ancillary news features that are a staple of full-blown campaign season coverage.

My colleagues Mark Barabak and Seema Mehta interviewed dozens of Republican activists to gauge their response to Romney's newfound emphasis on fighting poverty and income equality. (While Romney has an admirable history of personal philanthropy and charitable giving, as a candidate in 2012, he was hardly a champion of the poor.  “I’m not concerned about the very poor," he said. "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”)

The New York Times had an entertaining story about the importance of Ann Romney’s imprimatur on a new campaign, since she swore up and down after they lost in 2012 that she’d never let her husband run for president again. (She said the same thing in 2008.)

And I popped down to La Jolla to check on that Romney beach house remodel, which made headlines in 2012, when Politico reported that plans included a car elevator. Judging from reader response about the renovation, Americans are primed to find political bias in every mention of their candidate.

So far, I’ve been accused of writing a “hit piece.” Also, “a blatant cheap shot.” I’ve been asked: “Why pick on Mitt?”

“And so it begins,” wrote a reader in South Carolina. “You guys can't wait to jump on that elitist train highlighting the wealth of Mitt Romney. He hasn't even officially announced his decision, even if there is one to come. While Mitt Romney has millions, why don't you stick to what you know i.e. Oprah!!!”

I'm not picking on Mitt. With Romney making noise about another run, I simply thought people might want to know what became of the house, which was in the national news quite a bit in the spring of 2012. (In this post, I’ve included some photos of the work in progress, and a rendering of the final design. For those who have expressed concern that stories like these invade the Romneys' privacy, be aware that the home abuts the street and is clearly visible from the beach below.)

The Romneys’ remodeling project is newsworthy on a number of levels.

First, he ran for president and may do so again. Second, the plans sparked a public battle at the California Coastal Commission, which has ultimate authority over construction projects in the coastal zone.

In a bid to block Coastal Commission approval, a former Dunemere Drive neighbor claimed the Romneys had inappropriately included public beachfront in the formula for calculating the allowable size of their new home, which was to grow from 3,000 to 11,000 square feet. Other neighbors were concerned that the height of the project would block their precious ocean views.

In October 2013, the commission gave the Romneys permission to move forward with their plans. Commissioners, on a vote of 7 to 4, found that the Romneys do indeed own the strip of beach in front of their home.  In addition, as a condition of their building permit, they were required to deed it to the public for use in perpetuity.

Locals had also claimed the Romneys had privatized a public walkway between their home and their next-door neighbor to the north. That neighbor, Jeff Lepore, shares a key to the beach gate with the Romneys.

And while it is true that the public once used the walkway, it has been locked for decades and is indeed private property. Also, there is ample access to the beach from Sea Lane, the coastal commission said, mere yards north of the Lepore/Romney access gate. 

As of last week, the house was framed, the exterior walls covered with plywood. A neighbor told me that a Romney construction representative kept residents up to date about the work, and had told them recently that construction is weeks ahead of schedule and will be finished before the end of the year.

Just in time, if you're inclined to look at it that way, for the place to become the perfect California outpost for a potential Republican presidential nominee.

Please follow me on Twitter: @robinabcarian

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