Environmentalist are celebrating a precedent-setting vote Thursday by the California Coastal Commission to tear down a seawall protecting an oceanfront home in Laguna Beach.
After the previous owner received retroactive approval for the previously unpermitted seawall, Jeffrey and Tracy Katz bought the home on Victoria Beach and performed an extensive remodel, which was completed in January and increased the value of the home from $14 million to $25 million.
Katzes’ lawyer argued that the work qualified as “repair and maintenance” and so did not required a commission permit. The 11 commission members were not only unanimous in agreeing that the extent of the work required a permit, but doubled to $1 million the fine recommended by staff.
The Katzes are expected to pursue a pending lawsuit that could reverse the decision. If the suit is unsuccessful, removal of the seawall is likely to require demolition of at least a portion of the home because of its exposure to winter waves.
While environmentalists cheered the the decision against the Katzes, they also pointed to broader implications of the vote as sea levels rise and shrink the size of many California beaches.
“This was a huge, hard decision,” said Jennifer Savage, California policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation. “We know that our future means a loss of beaches. Hopefully, this means fewer seawalls and an extension of the life of our beaches.”
Seawalls interfere with the natural flow of sand along the coast, of erosion that helps replenish beaches and of the landward creep of beaches that accompanies sea-level rise.
Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Newtwork, said the commission decision could prove a sign of more aggressive enforcement by the commission and a deterrent to others who build illegal seawalls and unpermitted remodels.
“We need homeowners to site their homes out of harms way,” Jordan said.
After the previous owners were told by the Coastal Commission they couldn’t rebuild their Laguna Beach house in the current location virtually on the beach, new owners — the Katzes — went ahead anyway without state permits and did an $11 million remodel that commission staff characterized as a virtually complete rebuild.
“Every part of the house appears to have been replaced or, as in the case of the wood framing and decks, has been effectively replaced by the addition of new, reinforcing beams, framing, and other materials, including: installing new roof framing (including steel beams); adding new exterior wall framing or framing “sistered” to existing framing; adding new (larger) joists sistered to existing joists and/or adding new joists; installing glue lams and steel beams and adding new window/door framing,” according to the staff report.
This story will be updated with more details shortly.