ENCINITAS — Bluff-front homeowner Rick Taylor was surprised when a lifeguard came to his house on the 200 block of Neptune Avenue on June 25 and told him the bluff below may fail.
Taylor said the lifeguard explained the situation and gave him a dozen photocopied pictures of the bluff below his home.
“I saw the pictures and went right down,” Taylor said. “I wanted to see how bad was the problem.”
Taylor said once he got to the beach below neighbors shared speculations and history of past bluff failures.
“Obviously I was concerned,” Taylor said.
A 100-foot section of the beach around the cracked bluff face, north of Moonlight Beach, remains taped off with warning signs alerting beachgoers the bluff is highly unstable.
Greg Shields, senior civil engineer, said there are vertical fractures in the bluff and over time natural friction and pressure causes the bluff to separate.
Shields said moisture is holding the cracked bluff together, but as the weather becomes dryer the outside face of the bluff is expected to fall off.
“It’s standard erosion,” Shields said. “The lifeguards are constantly on alert. It will be falling.”
When eminent bluff failure is spotted, lifeguards alert city engineers and bluff-front homeowners are notified. Warnings are also posted on the beach.
Shields cautioned that beachgoers should routinely check the height of the bluff and distance themselves that length from the bluff when they are at the beach.
A fatal accident occurred several years ago in close proximity to where the beach is currently taped off now. A woman was sitting against the bluff when a chunk of it unexpectedly fell on top of her. Shields said her husband had just finished surfing and was walking towards her when he witnessed the incident.
Shields added that the accident was tragic and preventable.
“These bluffs are dangerous,” Shields said. “Do not sit underneath them. Large portions let go, there is no way to tell.”
The state owns the beach and bluff up to the homeowner’s property line on the bluff top. Shields said the Coastal Commission does not allow homeowners to build a retaining wall or other erosion prevention device unless their home is in imminent danger.
“In this area we (the city) don’t have any responsibility,” Shields said. “The Coastal Commission is looking at natural retreat. The erosion process is slow.”
He added that most of the beach retaining walls that are in place were put in before the Coastal Commission made the decision to allow the natural retreat of the beach and bluff.
Shields said the city gives approval to home remodeling at a distance of approximately 40 feet back from the edge of the bluff. He said this bears no impact to the bluff below.
“It’s like a fly hitting the table,” Shields said. “It doesn’t have an impact.”
There is home remodeling currently being done at a bluff-front home on the 200 block of Neptune, but Shields said this in not the cause of the bluff failure below.