No Variances on the Thirty-Foot Height Limit

Height Limit

No Variances on the Thirty-Foot Height Limit

Have you ever stood in front of a building in the Coastal Zone where the 30-foot height restriction is supposed to apply and thought the building you were looking at had to be higher than 30 feet? Chances are it was.

Developers began interpreting the word “grade” in the original language of Proposition D, the 30-foot high building limit for the coast, as the finished grade, not the existing grade. That meant the developer could pile up dirt and raise the height of the building to pretty much any level he or she desired — that is, 32, 34, 37, feet.

This was not the voters’ intention when they overwhelming passed Proposition D in 1972. The city, to its credit, realized this and subsequently supplemented the language of the original Proposition D so as to force developers to meet the voters’ intent. This supplement to the municipal code forces the developer to measure 30 feet from the finished grade or the existing grade whichever is lower. This provides a uniform 30-foot height for everyone.

Now The Bishop’s School in La Jolla wants an exemption from Proposition D and its supplementary code to build a 32-foot building. They want to revert to measuring from the finished grade. If this exemption to the current code is allowed by way of the “variance” process, it will set a precedent for the Coastal Zone, and developers will happily revert back to measuring from the finished grade and again build 32, 35, 39-foot buildings. If this variance is granted, similar variances cannot be denied to other developers. As time progresses, your peek-a-boo view will disappear, the winter shadow of the adjacent building will come further over your property and the wall of condos along the beach will grow a few feet higher as more variances are granted.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) recommended the denial of this project, and the San Diego Hearing Officer approved it. The San Diego Planning Commission will hear the appeal on this issue on December 16. Please contact them at or 619.321.3208, and tell them you want the original intent of the voters to be maintained.

David Little lives in La Jolla and is a Trustee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association. These comments do not necessarily represent the LJCPA as a whole.

What do you think?