Science

Solana Beach pushes ahead with plan to charge sea wall owners an offset fee

This city is pushing ahead with a plan to charge sea wall owners a fee to offset what their projects cost the public in lost recreational opportunities.

The City Council last week heard an update on the proposal, along with complaints from some property owners who said the fee would be unfair and redundant. A vote on the plan is expected in a few weeks.

Sea walls have been a point of contention for decades because they prevent bluffs from eroding and replenishing beaches. Protecting the shoreline and preserving beach access is the key aim of the California Coastal Act, enacted in the mid-1970s.

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The California Coastal Commission and groups such as the Surfrider Foundation say sea wall owners must be held accountable for how the structures are contributing to the narrowing of public beaches. The recreation fee would be the latest tool in that effort.

David Winkler, a coastal property owner and attorney, said sea wall owners already pay fees, including a "sand mitigation fee," to make up for lost sand.

He said the walls are essential to preventing waves from washing away the bluff beneath his home, and they protect people on the beach from being crushed by boulders in a sudden collapse.

"You have to consider the fairness of the situation," Winkler said. "None of us wants to build sea walls, but we have to protect our property."

Solana Beach is the only city in San Diego County still awaiting the Coastal Commission's certification of its local plan. As a result, it may be the first to face the fee requirement.

As part of the certification process, the commission has asked Solana Beach to set a recreational fee based on several factors, including the number of people who use the beach, how much money they make, the size of the beach and the kinds of things people do there.

Solana Beach has been refining the proposed fee for several years. The latest plan sets the fee at $870 per linear foot for any permit requested this year. The fee would increase steadily over the next 20 years — reaching as much as $1,311 per foot in 2026 — to reflect things such as changing wages, the cost of living and even the expected rise in sea level.

philip.diehl@sduniontribune.com

Diehl writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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