ENCINITAS — Encinitas’ decades-long struggle to permanently stabilize a notoriously unstable coastal bluff at Beacon’s Beach took another turn last week, as the City Council directed staff to work with state regulators to find a fix, aborting a previous attempt.
The city for two years had tried to get the California Coastal Commission to sign off on its proposed method of stabilizing the bluff — using an erodible soil cement. But the Coastal Commission signaled in March that it wouldn’t approve the proposal because it would limit the amount of sand that would return to the beach. It raised additional questions about the project to city staff.
Staff returned to the City Council at its Aug. 16 meeting with a request to authorize a $614,000 contract with an engineering firm to start preliminary engineering work and public outreach to address the Coastal Commission’s concerns, and move the project forward.
The contract would not include permitting, construction documents and bidding services.
The City Council instead directed staff to work directly with the Coastal Commission to come to a solution that the state agency would support.
“Instead of approving the city staff’s request for a $614,000 contract emphasizing ‘stakeholder coordination’ and ‘project scoping meetings,’ we asked staff to return with a preferred solution that the Coastal Commission could support and a proposed contract that would get us through the permitting stage,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.
Several stakeholders, including a representative from the Surfrider Foundation, echoed the council’s concerns that the contract would lead to an unfavorable result with the Coastal Commission, and the only way to ensure the body’s approval was to work with them from the outset.
The stability of the bluffs atop Beacon’s Beach, which is operated by the city under a 20-year agreement with state parks, drew attention in town in 2001, when a collapse destroyed part of a trail. City officials have long listed the stabilization project as a priority, and shortly after the 2001 incident state parks awarded the city a $2.75 million grant to stabilize the area.
City officials in 2009 honed in on a seawall as the preferred method to shore up the bluff, but the state withdrew the grant, citing its policy against sea walls.
Officials fear that another bluff collapse could damage that bluff top parking lot and the trail that winds down the 100-foot bluff to the beach below.
Encinitas officials and officials with the state parks department in February 2015 met with Coastal Commission officials to present their preferred alternative, using soil cement to reinforce the bluff. But the Coastal Commission had reservations about the size and scope of the project.
But Coastal Commission officials in 2016 appeared to be moving toward giving the city’s “erodible buttress” plan the thumbs up before reversing course in March.