Coast News: Shore up bluffs to save lives and preserve beach access

By Patricia Bates
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Published by the Coast News on May 20, 2020.

Coastal erosion has wreaked havoc on communities along California’s coastline for years as increasing amounts of bluffs are collapsing onto our beaches.

This harsh reality became a deadly one in Encinitas at Grandview Beach in August 2019.

An oceanfront bluff suddenly collapsed without warning and killed three members of a family who had gathered to celebrate Elizabeth Cox’s victory over breast cancer. Elizabeth, her sister Julie Davis, and her niece Annie Clave, all perished.

There could have been more fatalities had friends and other family members present at the celebration not been a few feet away from the impact area at the time of the collapse.

The Encinitas tragedy followed similar bluff collapse fatalities in 1995, 2000, 2002, and 2008. In October 2018, a concrete beach walkway near the back of Capistrano Beach collapsed because of ocean driven erosion.

In November 2019, a major bluff collapse in Del Mar put the entire coastal rail-line in jeopardy and will now cost $100 million to repair.

Concerns over more bluff collapses have become especially acute in San Diego and Orange Counties. Millions of people visit our beaches each year but are forced to sit at the base of at-risk bluffs due to the lack of sand replenishment and minimal beach area during mid to high tides.

While the California Coastal Act of 1976 requires any construction that alters natural shoreline processes to be permitted by the California Coastal Commission or a local government with an approved local coastal program, their current coastal management strategy does not prioritize erosion mitigation.

Doing nothing to prevent additional bluff collapses is not acceptable.

While some believe that we should just “retreat” and let erosion continue unchecked, it begs the question, where does the retreat end? There has to be a better way than just waving the white flag and surrendering both public and private properties and facilities.

In partnership with many local residents who love our coast, I have introduced Senate Bill 1090 to help save lives, preserve beach access and essential infrastructure, ensure local control, and protect property rights.

SB 1090 would require the California Coastal Commission to approve a public agency’s or homeowner’s application for erosion mitigation efforts for planting, drainage, and seawall or shoreline protective device installation – but only if they meet certain requirements for coastal mitigation. If an applicant is granted a permit, they would also pay for a specified amount of sand replenishment and permit processing costs.

The Coastal Commission would be required to respond to such a request within 30 days. Unless an application constitutes a substantial threat to public safety, coastal erosion mitigation projects would move forward under specific regulations.

If a project is denied, the Coastal Commission would need to respond within 30 days with the reason and documentation for the denial.

SB 1090 would also require the Coastal Commission to identify plant species native to Orange and San Diego counties, and specifies that a property owner would not be required to obtain approval from the Coastal Commission or a local government for the planting of those identified species, which will also help mitigate further erosion.

While powerful forces prefer the state stick to the status quo of doing nothing to shore up our bluffs and improve public safety, I say we must do better.

With the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee scheduled to consider SB 1090 on May 26, I hope a bipartisan majority of the committee members will agree that the time to act is now before more lives are lost.