Connor Frost | Mustang News

The California Coastal Commission appealed the City of Pismo Beach’s approval for private seawalls for two beachfront houses experiencing erosion.

This appeal comes a month after the City of Pismo Beach Planning Commission initially approved the plan for a 120-foot-long and 40-foot-high seawall for resident James Gentilcore’s beachfront estate. 

“We look at it from the public’s perspective,” California Coastal Commission Program Analyst Katie Butler said. “We know that if you continue to armor, you lose beaches over time, and you lose public access and recreation. So that’s a really big consideration for our Commission. Under the Coastal Act, it’s paramount.”

The purpose of the California Coastal Act is to “enhance public access, protect natural resources, and balance coastal development in the public interest.”

After receiving the approved plan from the City of Pismo Beach, the Coastal Commission issued an appeal in November citing three main substantial issues with the construction of the seawall.

The first point of contention lies in who has coastal development permit jurisdiction over the designated construction site. Seeing as the seawall would be built along the coast, the state’s commission argues that the project should have been brought to their attention first.

The second substantial issue centers around local coastal program requirements regarding shoreline armoring. Local coastal programs are a collaboration effort from the local government and the California Coastal Commission to effectively develop coastal regions.

Under the local coastal program, armoring is only applicable if the structure qualifies as an “existing principal structure,” any building or house that came into existence before Jan. 1, 1977, or if it is a “coastal-dependent use in danger from erosion.” Gentilcore’s house was built in 2003, excluding it from this requirement.

The final point of contention brings up the validity of implementing a seawall when alternatives may be more suitable. The staff report of this Gentilcore appeal concludes that the city has not efficiently evaluated any alternatives, impacts and mitigations more properly suited for the situation. 

Gentilcore proposed a seawall after a recorded 10 feet of erosion, due to rising sea levels, in the past 20 years. 

“This is almost– if not– the top issue that our Commission is going to continue to grapple with for the next however many years,”  Butler said about the impending threat of rising sea levels. 

The California Coastal Commission will meet this month in preparation for a de novo hearing on the merits of the sea wall application, although as of late, there is no set meeting date.

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