City officials are on edge about a California Coastal Commission staff concept that will have enormous impact on development along the bluff-top edges in Laguna, as well as other coastal communities.
The commission staff is considering a definition of a major remodel that would accumulate all additions to bluff-top structures that increased square footage 50% or more dating back 75 years as the threshold to require a property owner to conform to contemporary setbacks.
Affected residents would have to bring their property up to the municipal code, which would mean, essentially, removing parts of the home that don't conform to limitations on height, square-footage and more.
The city withdrew on Tuesday an amendment to its local coastal program submitted for certification that conflicts with the commission staff's definition while negotiations between staffs proceed.
"The commission's concept is called managed retreat — replace that with forced retreat to understand what is happening," Community Development Director John Montgomery reported at a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission on Saturday at the Community Center. "It's pretty far-reaching. There are a lot of legal issues that will make statewide news.
"Huntington Beach is wrestling with this. Sixty coastal cities could be impacted, including Malibu, whose local coastal program was drafted by the commission."
The remodel definition concept is based on the acceptance of the commission's 75-year time frame in a Solana Beach local coastal program amendment, Montgomery said.
"It was not really much of an issue with Solana Beach, and the commission got it through and now is trying to make it precedential," Montgomery said. "It is a much bigger deal in Laguna."
Laguna currently does not include any additions made more than three years prior in calculating the 50% trigger for conformance with city code, according to Montgomery. Other cities' policies range from two to five years.
The city's definition had been included in the bundle of amendments to the city's local coastal program submitted to the commission for certification at its April 13 meeting.
"We will have a negotiating session after that meeting, from which the amendment was withdrawn," City Manager John Pietig said Wednesday. "We anticipate holding a public workshop [in town] to discuss implications of options being considered."
The definition of a major remodel crafted last year by the city's Planning Commission and approved by the council will be in effect until, or if, a settlement with the Coastal Commission staff is reached, Pietig said.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman expressed confusion at Saturday's meeting over the Coastal Commission staff's concept, of which she had not been aware at the meeting where the city's updated land-use element was approved.
"It was not on the table at that meeting," Pietig said. "We heard some talk, but we thought the commission staff would be more reasonable.
"But then Solana Beach came along."