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Coastal Commission prepares to order removal of unpermitted beach encroachments in Newport

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Plants and patio furniture placed on the public beach are examples of encroachments the California Coastal Commission wants removed from the sand in Newport Beach.
(File Photo)

The California Coastal Commission is prepared to formally begin ordering the removal of private property on the public beach abutting oceanfront homes on the far east end of the Balboa Peninsula, seven months after the commission rejected a request by Newport Beach to allow some of the long-standing but unpermitted permanent encroachments on the sand — what one commissioner called “squatting by the rich.”

Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth recently sent the city an eight-page letter — a “notification of intent to commence cease-and-desist order, restoration order and administrative civil penalties proceedings” — regarding landscaping, patios, furniture, pavers, fences and other property on the beach adjoining 60 to 70 oceanfront homes in the Peninsula Point area.

The notice was “not to discourage further settlement discussions, but rather, it is to provide formal notice of our intent to resolve these issues through the order process, which in no way precludes a consensual resolution,” Ainsworth wrote in the Jan. 30 letter to Newport Beach Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis. “My staff remains prepared to continue working with you toward a mutually acceptable outcome.”

In July, the city sought to amend its Local Coastal Program, a development agreement with the state, to allow — for a fee paid by the homeowners — up to 15 feet of encroachments in Peninsula Point. That would have protected at least some of the adornments that make up unpermitted seaward “backyards” reaching as far as 80 feet past the property lines of dozens of homes between F Street and the harbor entrance channel.

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Many of those extensions have been in place for years, even decades. Newport and the Coastal Commission have negotiated over encroachments on and off for 30 years. The beach is city-owned but subject to additional Coastal Commission regulation.

The city offered to limit the encroachments to 15 feet — the depth of the city right of way abutting the homes — and restore the uncovered sand, in addition to providing further infrastructure such as lifeguard towers, bicycle racks and trash bins, plus specialized wheelchairs that can navigate sand and further operation of the seasonal Balboa Peninsula Trolley.

The commission unanimously turned down the request, calling it privatization of a limited public resource.

“The encroachments, which are located on public beach, reduce the amount of sandy beach area available to the general public, thereby decreasing coastal recreation opportunities, which is in direct conflict with the goals of the Coastal Act policies,” Ainsworth wrote in his letter. “Furthermore, landscaped areas not only physically exclude the public from using these areas, they also erroneously present the appearance that these areas are private, therefore deterring the public from using this portion of the city-owned beach.”

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Ainsworth emphasized in his notice that city and commission staff have met several times in the past few months and that both sides would like to reach an agreement. However, should the city and state be unable to reach a timely resolution, commission staff could initiate a hearing.

Newport Beach Councilwoman Diane Dixon, whose district includes the Balboa Peninsula, said she was disappointed that the commission rejected the city’s compromise offer last summer and said the city is “working with residents to find an equitable solution for all.”

The City Council met about the commission’s notice in a closed session Feb. 11. City Attorney Aaron Harp declined to comment.

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