City and Coastal Commission staffs working toward reconciliation


The most recent attempt by City and California Coastal Commission staffs to address conflicts between the two agencies may have been more fruitful than previous tries to reconcile their differences.

Inconsistency between the city’s Municipal Code and the General Plan plus different interpretations by the two staffs have led to appeals to the commission about development projects. The City Council on Tuesday directed the Planning Commission to initiate amendments to sections of the General Plan, the Municipal Code and the certified Local Coastal Plan related to defining major remodels and the oceanfront bluff tops, clarifying coastal development procedures and streamlining the discretionary review process.

“I have worked on this for years,” said council watchdog, Sharon Fudge.

Fudge and her husband, Mark, frequently challenge council decisions on development issues, appealing them to the commission. 

“You say we should comply with the city’s Local Coastal Plan,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steven Dicterow. “We think we are complying.”

The problem has been that the commission doesn’t always agree.

In 2011, the council approved an ordinance that modified the precious definition of “Major Remodel” and “Non-conforming structures.” It was submitted to the commission for certification but was withdrawn in 2012 to allow the staff more time to reach mutually acceptable definitions. The staffs recommenced discussion in 2018.

Newly proposed amendments are intended to address the unresolved issues.

Staff is recommending a new definition of “major remodel” to include the statement that greater specificity shall be provided in the Municipal Code. Moreover, the sections of the code and land use planning pertaining to major development should be consistent.

Another bone of contention has been the definition of oceanfront bluffs. The city currently has two versions in its Certified Local Coastal Plan. The city and the commission have been using different definitions, leading to confusion on the part of the staffs and the property owners.

Staff is recommending sections of the Land Use and Open Space/Conservation elements be amended to clarify the bluffs and the setbacks from the bluffs. Staff also recommends adding a new section to the Zoning Code related to oceanfront development standards and requirements to be submitted on oceanfront lots.

Recommended amendments to the elements are expected to rectify the different interpretations of the Municipal Code by city and commission staffs. The council also directed to streamline the discretionary review process, which staff has undertaken.

“This should be moved along,” said Laguna Beach architect Marshall Ininns.

Development Director Greg Pfost posited bringing the results of the city planners review back to the council within four months. Staff will continue to meet with commission staff in the interim, Pfost said.