Published 8/30/2007 on Press Telegram
LONG BEACH – The state Coastal Commission has launched a probe into possible encroachments by homeowners on sandy public beach recreational space along both sides of the Peninsula.
Andrew Willis, an enforcement analyst for the agency's South Coast Area Office, Wednesday said the commission is looking at city permits and conducting aerial analysis of the area on the Eastside of Long Beach.
A 2003 study, ordered by the city's Parks and Recreation Department, found that 39 private properties – including a home owned by former Vice Mayor Frank Colonna – spilled over onto public properties.
Willis said the aerial analysis will include all properties – and not be restricted to those pinpointed in the 2003 survey.
"We will look for changes that have occurred," Willis added.
Among its jurisdictional powers, the state Coastal Commission has a mandate to protect access to the public beaches and bays. It has the authority – often backed up by court action – to halt projects that impede or obstruct access to public recreational resources.
Along with the commission probe, Willis said he plans to speak with Parks and Recreation officials in the near future – and possibly with other city
officials in the city manager and city attorney's offices.
However, Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said there's no pressing issue at this time, since the encroachment situations do not appear to be blocking public access to the beach.
"We don't have anything in the works," Mais said.
He noted the area is isolated, with only volleyball and kitesurfing being the occasional activities in the area.
"If no one is complaining … it wouldn't be a top priority,"
Mark Sandoval, manager of the Marine Bureau, said he expects reviews of the issues among the city manager and city attorney offices before any decision is made about possible corrective action.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of discussions," he added.
However, Sandoval also said the encroachment situations aren't pressing matters.
On the south side of Ocean Boulevard, there were 10 beach-facing properties identified in the survey as having alleged violations.
However, for homes in the 6900 and 7000 blocks of Seaside Walk, a large section of encroachment is a sprawling area of ice-plants on top of mounds of sand.
Dennis Eschen, manager of the Planning and Development Bureau for Parks and Recreation, said the ice-plants were placed in the area by city workers, in an attempt to introduce sand stabilization.
Roger Sullivan, of 6901 Seaside Walk, said the ice-plants are part of the mostly flat sand dunes' ecosystem,
adding that the state Coastal Commission did not want them removed.
The environmental issues involved in removing the plants, Mais said, could create a legal barrier to clearing the public sand area.
"I don't know if we could remove it," he added.
Some of the Seaside Walk properties – including the one belonging to Colonna – had patio features on the public sector, according to the city survey.
Colonna, on a European tour, could not be reached for comment. However, his son, Jeremy Colonna, said the patio feature predates his father's ownership of the property, adding that it was most likely there when the house was first built several decades ago – as other additions were constructed by original homeowners at the time.
"People did that from Day One," he added. "It's an unused beach area."
The situation is not uncommon, according to Jeremy Colonna.
"In most beach communities … it's a kind of understood situation," he said. "Everyone kind of lets sleeping dogs lie."
On the north side of Ocean Boulevard, along Bayshore Walk, there are several properties with sundecks and patios that seemingly extend into the public sector, according to the 4-year-old survey.
The 2003 survey was initiated following a heated dispute in nearby Naples.
At that location, a surveyor found that 18 of 30 properties along Sorrento Drive were blocking access to a 15-foot-wide public walkway along Alamitos Bay.
Encroachments involved fences, walls, patios and barbecues that blocked a public access to the shoreline.
Warning letters alerted property owners that if they failed to correct the encroachments the city would do the work, and then bill the homeowners.
Sorrento Drive residents – saying the walkway and beach were rarely used – argued that they did everything the city told them to do, including unlocking their gates to allow access.
However, enforcement officials stood firm – and they had a survey undertaken to define whose Naples property is whose, identifying in the process whose properties were encroaching and whose were not.
While the city's survey showed that many homeowners in northwest Naples extended their properties onto public land, it also showed that the beach in front of many homes farther east on the island had eroded and that fences and walls there were legal, Mais said.
A small number of alleged encroachers were allowed to obtain occupancy permits for items such as a raised brick planter.
However, all of the encroachments had been removed, according to Mais.
The assistant city attorney said he's not sure if any new encroachment situations have surfaced.
Mais said he believes there are no additional problems, since his office hasn't received any new complaints.
"And I would have, I'm sure," he added.
Joe Segura can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (562) 499-1274.