ENCINITAS — Encinitas’ new plan to fix an unstable coastal bluff at Beacon’s Beach is straightforward: don’t fix it at all.
Rather than the city’s previous plan to stabilize the bluff with an erodible cement wall, which the Coastal Commission said would limit the amount of sand returning to the shoreline, the city’s new plan is to let the bluff — and its iconic switchback staircase — go by the way of nature.
As part of the plan, the city would relocate the bluff-top parking lot, which visitors use to access the beach, further landward, and would build a staircase similar to ones at Swami’s and Grandview beaches to access the beach from the new parking lot.
“Reconfiguring the parking lot to allow a greater setback from the top of bluff would not stabilize the landslide,” the city’s staff report said. “However, doing so would allow for the parking area to be situated outside the anticipated failure plane of a re-activated landslide and would allow for natural bluff erosion.
“The City will endeavor to maintain the existing switchback access trail while practicable.
However, erosion continues to make the trail more hazardous, and the access will eventually reach the end of its safe lifespan,” the report stated.
At some point, the new staircase would also be rendered inaccessible due to sea level rise, staff said.
Both the Coastal Commission and the Surfrider Foundation have tentatively signed off on the new plan, and the City Council unanimously approved a $604,063 contract with a 15-percent contingency with AECOM to navigate the project through the planning, environmental approval and permitting phases.
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.
The city for two years had tried to get the California Coastal Commission to sign off on its previously 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.