As Del Mar sees it, they've worked tirelessly to amend their local coastal plan to account for sea rise. Flooding, beach loss, and coastal bluff erosion were all considered, and the adaptation plan put into their community plan. Done, and done.
But to the California Coastal Commission, the four-year effort was only a good start. In 88 pages of suggested changes, the state calls for more details to address future impacts like extreme events, and lays out why Del Mar's flexible approach is still in need of a plan.
The issue was on the agenda for the Commission's Oct 16 meeting in Chula Vista. Del Mar took a rain check.
And the meeting just wasn't the same without them. The deadline to approve the amendment before it expires is looming. By putting off a response to the recommendations, the city seemed more ready to let it go than accept changes.
"I was surprised and disappointed that the city council summarily rejected all 25 of our suggested modifications without any discussion or consultation with us whatsoever," said commission director Jack Ainsworth.
"We've been working with the city almost four years on this sea level rise plan and adaptation management," he said, calling the modifications "incredibly benign," arising from the city's own adaptation plan. "Tweaks, in my view."
The city saw it as a re-write, and was lashing out about the words between the words, a trapdoor to managed retreat, and an effort to make Del Mar a test case to impose the strategy on other coastal cities.
Ainsworth rejected the drama, saying he didn't appreciate "the rhetoric and characterization of staff's motives behind this amendment."
"Today, we still have not heard why they object to our modifications."
Those reasons emerged at a Del Mar city council meeting the week before, when the city went over the modifications and discussed what to do - which is still being worked out. Should they request approval of their LCPA as-is, revise it before the meeting, seek a continuance ahead of the March 2020 deadline - or withdraw their application?
Withdraw it, residents begged. Don't change a thing.
Homeowners envisioned a slippery slope to managed retreat – moving homes inland to escape deluge. "We don't want trigger points," said Paul Rhodes, referring to specific signs like a certain amount of erosion of a bluff that would trigger further action by the city.
"You can't sign on to this," said Julie Hoffman, but tell homeowners their seawall is "just gonna have to go away, and by the way, when your home goes away the 600 homes behind that berm on the beach are going with it."
The city has concluded that managed retreat is not necessary or feasible. And they're not the only ones resisting it.
"A lot of communities aren't ready for it," Ainsworth said at a workshop in July. "And that's fine but that should be built into your [local coastal programs] going forward, with plans out beyond ten years."
Del Mar plans to monitor and evaluate sea rise effects, but their approach hinges on strategies to adapt now. It prioritizes beach nourishment and restoration, and indicates where infrastructure or public facilities need upgrades.
It's not enough, the state argues, given the city's significant vulnerabilities revealed in their own studies.
The city stands behind their system of seawalls in north beach, which they say the state ignores in their recommendations. The modifications put a damper on development in the floodplain and expanded coastal bluff overlay, limiting areas the city deems suitable for development, and tackling sea rise at the permit level. "We felt the systems approach works best, and this is being rejected," Hill said.
It's one size fits all, while the city believed they "were able to develop a tailored approach, a local approach."
For the small wealthy city, the cost of not doing enough is up against that of retreating too soon. The risks would soar – due to property owner challenges. "What we want to do is spend money on adaptation, and we'd be using it to defend legal challenges."