DEL MAR — The City Council voted 3-1 at the Oct. 1 meeting to turn the city’s adaptation plan into an amendment to its local coastal program, or LCP, which will require approval by the California Coastal Commission.
The adaptation plan was developed in response to a 2015 vulnerability assessment, which determined sea-level rise as a threat to the city’s long-term viability.
The plan, which anticipates a 7-foot rise in sea level by 2100, outlines management strategies to deal with flooding, bluff retreat and a reduction of beach width. Although many of the city’s oceanfront homes are protected by seawalls or riprap, there is concern that such retention devices won’t be enough to address future flooding.
Amanda Lee, the city’s principal planner, said updating the LCP puts the city in good standing with FEMA and the state. The state expects cities to update their LCPs every 10 to 20 years, or to reflect recent and significant changes in science or policy, according to Lee’s presentation. The action will also help the city acquire funding from FEMA for hazard mitigation.
The city’s Sea Wall Technical Advisory Committee, which held more than 20 public meetings to hear stakeholder feedback and assess needed changes to the adaptation plan, recommended the council include the adaptation plan in the city’s community plan, but not in its LCP.
Several residents fear pushback from the Coastal Commission if the city amends the LCP, particularly in regard to managed retreat.
Managed retreat would require the city to acquire private property and relocate displaced residents, shifting the shoreline inland to “retreat” from the rising sea.
The city threw out managed retreat as a potential management strategy in May, determining that it “is not a necessary or feasible strategy in Del Mar.”
However, some residents believe this action will not be enough to evade revision by the Coastal Commission, which favors the managed retreat approach.
John Imperato, vice chairman of Sea Wall Technical Advisory Committee, lives three rows back from the beach in the beach colony, and worries about how a potential managed retreat strategy would affect his ability to sell or refinance his house.
“We have all these people here, who are fighting for their houses, and it’s in (the council’s) hands,” he said, mentioning that none of the council members live in impacted areas. “We feel like you don’t have any skin in the game.”
Kristin Brenner was the only committee member who stood by managed retreat. A Solana Beach resident asked to speak to Del Mar’s “beach-going public,” Brenner’s biggest concern is possible storm events.
“There may come a point in the future when beach nourishment and sea walls won’t be able to compensate,” she said.
Jon Corn, a coastal land-use attorney, said the amendment would cut property values and “cause marketplace confusion.”
“I don’t think it’s right to make decisions that will wreak havoc on the community for a huge ‘maybe,’” he said, referring to future flooding projections. “Planning should be 10 to 15 years ahead, but we’re looking at 50 to 100 years.”
The Coastal Commission submitted a letter to the city acknowledging Del Mar’s rejection of managed retreat.
There were about 60 attendees who waited for the LCP to be addressed, an item that amounted to about four hours of public comment and deliberation. Twenty residents spoke at the meeting, with the vast majority opposing the submission of the adaptation plan as an LCP amendment.
Mark Handzel was among several speakers who said the city is “rushing it,” and that the current LCP — which hasn’t been amended in more than 20 years — is certified and functional. Others supported awaiting the return of Councilman Terry Sinnott — who was absent at the meeting — to make a decision.
The council decided to rely on FEMA’s floodplain maps to establish the floodplain overlay zone, narrowing the number of homes that are designated as vulnerable to flooding. It also postponed a potential ordinance to expand a bluff overlay zone for another five years, “until (the city) knows what (North County Transit District) is doing” with the railroad tracks, said Lee.
Staff members are in the process of drafting a new resolution for the Oct. 15 meeting in order to address distrust in the community, and reassert that the council “will continue to fight for the existing adaptation plan,” said Lee.
Lee said that if the Coastal Commission denied key tenants of the city’s adaptation plan, the city would “walk away,” taking a similar legal approach to what they are currently facing with short-term rentals.
As the meeting came to a close, Mayor Dwight Worden restated his opposition to managed retreat, and his support of the adaptation plan as is.
“Any of the stuff we spent so much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears compromising and getting into our plan…we’re not going to change it,” he said. “That’s our position.”
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.