The owners of three buildings above an Ocean Beach pocket beach known as Bermuda Beach are set to pay a mitigation fee of $82,000 for beach they hope won’t be created by bluff collapse.
The property owners are going to spend a lot more to build seawalls along 125 feet of coast to stop the continuing collapse of the bluffs that started last year after the big December rainstorm.
“The bluff there is still failing,” says Robert Trettin, the land-use consultant working with the owners. “Last week, another chunk of bluff fell.”
A 13-unit condo building, a duplex, and a 5-unit building are nearly at the edge of the failing bluff, part of which was shored up in April of this year with an emergency California Coastal Commission permit, Trettin said.
The collapse earlier this year severely damaged the staircase down to the beach at the end of Bermuda, though people still make their way there from the sturdy concrete stairs at Pescadero Avenue or the boat-launch-ramp-like road at the end of Cable Street.
Standing on the beach and looking up, the precarious state of the homes’ positions becomes obvious — if the properties’ histories don’t already make it clear.
“There was a house seaward of the four units when it was built,” Trettin said. “That went away a while back.”
Ocean Beach and Sunset Cliffs have a long history of building near the edge and armoring seawalls, installing splash walls, or putting in huge rip-rap boulders on the beach to deflect wave energy from the mostly sand bluffs.
The Surfrider Foundation, which has fought bluff armoring in Encinitas and Solana Beach, doesn’t plan to oppose the O.B. seawalls, according to policy manager Julia Chunn-Heer. She said the Coastal Act of 1972 came into effect long after the area was armored.
The 14-unit building on Bermuda Street was at the heart of creating a special assessment district called the Oceanus Geological Hazard Assessment District in 2010 to save up for precisely this kind of emergency, according to city documents.
But locals say they apparently haven’t saved enough — even with the extraordinary monthly homeowners' association fees of $500 a month for a one-bedroom condo.
There was a time when the city could have purchased the threatened homes and let the bluff collapse and form more beach, Trettin said. But with house values in the millions and oceanfront condos nearing $500,000, it is no longer a buy-able option.
As the matter goes to the coastal commission (with staff recommending approval at the December 14th meeting), the commission asked for an estimate of the value of the beach that wouldn’t be created (assuming an average of about 2.5 inches of new beach from bluff collapse per year for 20 years along 106 feet) as well as for the sand that won’t be created. (They also added 28 inches of width into the calculation for the actual seawall.)
The final figure: about $82,000, money that will be placed in a San Diego Association of Governments fund for public access and recreation. The fund currently contains no money for San Diego, according to SANDAG spokesman David Hicks. (It does contain $282,000 for the city of Encinitas, he noted.)
“It’s a realistic mitigation that everyone can agree on,” Trettin said.