Grandview beach accident last year
All along the coast, cliffs are eroding more rapidly due to sea rise. Last August, a sunny day and crowded beach made for the worst outcome when a 30-foot-wide slab of sandstone bluff collapsed onto Grandview Beach in Encinitas, killing three family members. The tragedy was quickly rolled into existing efforts by coastal property owners to make it easier for them to build or fix seawalls, which are seen as something like guard rails, holding back accidents.
Erosion "has wreaked havoc" on communities "as increasing amounts of coastal bluffs are collapsing onto our beaches," says a petition for the SoCal Bluffs Alliance. In November, another big slide occurred feet from the train tracks in Del Mar, where an ongoing project to stabilize the bluffs became even more urgent. At the group's urging, a bill was introduced by senator Patricia Bates that would enable homeowners by right to build or repair coastal armoring projects in Orange and San Diego counties. "The California Coastal Commission is failing us," the Bluffs Alliance claims – and putting property owners in charge of erosion control could shore up coastal bluffs, making "local beaches safe and accessible for all."
Since 1976, the Coastal Act has guided decisions about development in the coastal zone. That would change under Senate bill 1090.The bill would require the Coastal Commission to approve all permit applications to build or repair armoring devices such as seawalls, retaining walls, and revetments, leaving insufficient time for review, according to a commission staff report. Approval would have to be issued within 30 days of an application, the fee not more than the cost for an emergency permit. To mitigate for any erosive effects of the seawall, the applicant could be required to deposit up to $25,000 worth of sand at the beach, but there could be no other mitigation conditions, even for loss of public access.
And it would eliminate local appeals to the commission for sea wall projects.
Among the bill's supporters are supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Encinitas mayoral candidate Julie Thunder, Encinitas District 2 candidate Susan Turney and 76th Assembly District candidate Melanie Burkholder.
On May 19, the San Diego County board of supervisors voted 4-1 to send a letter in support of the bill. Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the only "no" vote, said he didn't believe "the science surrounding coastal action" was best expressed by this bill.
The coastal commission voted against it in May. Seawalls, they said, "are not a silver bullet." And "focusing on protecting individual properties one at a time is an expensive, inequitable, short-term fix with significant long-term consequences." In a letter to the board, Surfrider Foundation wrote that the bill would "pave the way for private property owners" to hasten the loss of San Diego's public beaches "under the pretense of improving public safety."
Seawalls and revetments may temporarily protect homes, but when placed on an eroding or retreating beach, "will cause it to narrow and eventually disappear." Of the 34 comments on the bill that were sent to the board, only one was for it – the North San Diego County Association of Realtors.
Among the opponents was Rishi Sugla, a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who said "seawalls have disastrous consequences" to coastlines and that the bill "would lead to a faster loss of shorelines."
Carolyn Krammer, with Citizens for the Preservation of Parks & Beaches, used Oceanside as an example of what happens when you use rip rap "to stop the ocean from running up the beach." An aerial view shows that where there is rip rap, seawall or groins, "there is loss of sandy beach."
Even coronavirus was a reason to oppose it. Alex Ferron, who lives in Mission Hills and travels to the ocean daily, said the COVID-19 beach restriction "showed how greatly the majority relies on beach access for our mental health."