The Coast News Group
Gr
Flowers mark the location where a bluff collapse killed three family members. Courtesy photo
Encinitas Featured

Fatal Grandview bluff collapse triggers legislation

ENCINITAS — A Leucadia resident who witnessed a fatal bluff collapse that claimed the lives of three family members last summer in Encinitas is rallying support for legislation to improve public safety on beaches by allowing local municipalities and homeowners to more easily install protective barriers along the shoreline.

Charlie McDermott, founder of SoCal Bluff Alliance, was with his daughter at Grandview Beach when a 30-foot-long slab of sandstone crashed onto the sand, killing Anne Clave, her mother Julie Davis, and Clave’s aunt, Elizabeth Cox.

“I saw them dig out the victims,” McDermott told The Coast News. “They seemed like fantastic people and great community members. I swore it would never happen again. It was totally unnecessary.”

McDermott shared his experience and concerns with Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), who responded by introducing Senate Bill 1090.

The proposed bill would revise the California Coastal Act of 1976 by requiring the California Coastal Commission to grant permits to city, county and state agencies, in addition to oceanfront homeowners, for the installation of drainage systems, retaining walls, seawalls and erosion resistant landscaping to help prevent future fatalities on public beaches.

Additionally, SB 1090 imposes a “sand mitigation offset” requirement to help balance any potential loss of coastal sand supply due to these protective barriers. Specifically, property owners would be responsible for up to $25,000 of sand replenishment in front of the barrier.

The bill is scheduled for its first public hearing in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on May 26 at the State Capitol building in Sacramento.

For McDermott, the change to the law is about saving lives and putting local officials on notice.

“It’s guaranteed there will be more fatalities,” McDermott said. “When it comes to local politicians, we are going to give everybody a chance to respond, but we want to know where everybody stands. So, the next people that get killed, people will know right where to go.”

Longtime Encinitas resident Dr. Patrick Davis, who is the father, husband and brother-in-law of the Grandview bluff-collapse victims, is a co-founder of the SoCal Bluff Alliance and also backs SB 1090.

“In a coastal city like ours, where ocean cliffs exist, we need to prioritize protecting human lives on our beaches,” Davis told the Encinitas City Council just weeks after the tragic incident. “It may come by building protective walls or providing for constant sand replenishment or making certain beaches off-limits.”

McDermott also created a website outlining the proposed legislation and shared an online petition, which has thus far received 3,446 signatures.

The bill has received a wave of support across San Diego County, including endorsements from Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Encinitas mayoral candidate Julie Thunder, Encinitas District 2 candidate Susan Turney and 76th Assembly District candidate Melanie Burkholder.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to support the legislation, with Supervisor Nathan Fletcher voting against.

Grandview Beach
Grandview Beach in Leucadia is the location where a large chunk of sandstone came crashing down from the bluff and landed on the beach, killing three family members. Courtesy photo

But the legislation has received strong resistance from Surfrider Foundation and the state’s Coastal Commission, which voted to oppose the legislation last week.

According to a Coastal Commission staff report, SB 1090 will effectively override requirements within Section 30253 of the Coastal Act, requiring the commission and local governments to approve “coastal armoring projects,” such as seawalls, berms and retaining walls, without sufficient time for review.

Ultimately, this would lead to a permanent loss of public beaches “for the temporary benefit of the relatively few landowners fortunate enough to own oceanfront property,” the report states.

Jim Jaffee, a co-chair of Surfrider Foundation’s beach preservation committee, said the increase of seawalls will essentially destroy the beach.

“Our biggest opposition (to SB 1090) is the detrimental effect seawalls have on the shoreline,” Jaffee said. “If we fix the beach with concrete, there will be no beach. How can the beach be safe if there is no beach?”

Jaffee said the bill would “gut the protections” under current state law regarding seawalls, change the effective date for existing structures to May 1, 2020, and provide temporary protections for bluff-top properties while eliminating the beach for the general public.

Jaffee also believes McDermott, who recently purchased a home along the bluff on Neptune Avenue in Leucadia, has an inherent conflict of interest in his support of SB 1090.

“He’s worried about his property,” Jaffee said. “But the only people sacrificing will be the beachgoing public.”

Bates, who represents the 36th District covering South Orange County, North San Diego County and Camp Pendleton, acknowledged Jaffee’s concerns of shoreline reduction but noted the bill does attempt to mitigate these issues.

“I’m not disputing that when there are seawalls, you lose beach,” Bates told The Coast News. “But when you’re replenishing, you are basically repairing the beach. This particular bill requires individuals seeking mitigation to provide that and it’s not an inexpensive process.”

Bates said she put forth this legislation to have these types of discussions and she is open to amendments and revisions suggested by the committee (Bates also wrote an op-ed exclusive to The Coast News regarding SB 1090 available here).

Bluff Collapse
First responders responded to the scene of the bluff collapse on Aug. 2 in Encinitas. File photo

According to the California Coastal Records Project, the Grandview bluff, near the site where a portion of the cliff collapsed last August, was actively graded in the 1970s for the development of several Leucadia bluff-top apartments and condominiums.

The removal of soil due to construction activity, in addition to stormwater drainage, irrigation from blufftop properties and heavy rainfall have all been recognized as potential contributing factors of rapid bluff erosion.

Additionally, the construction of groins, seawalls and concrete embankments along the shoreline may have increased the rate of shoreline retreat by preventing cliffs from naturally replenishing beaches with sand.

David Revell, founding principal and chief scientist of Integral Consulting, an environmental consulting firm, said the building of seawalls is likely more responsible for bluff erosion than the development at the top of the cliffs.

“To say that seawalls would help the public is a farce,” Revell said. “Coastal armoring shouldn’t be used as a public safety measure to protect private property unless there are substantial public benefits of the project for a set period of time. The priority should be protecting the beach and access to it. That’s where cities and counties get their revenue.

“I don’t think the answer is to circumnavigate the Coastal Act to protect a few one-percenters that have had that property for 50 years and are paying next to nothing in property taxes because of Prop 13,” Revell said.

But McDermott denied that SB 1090 was a property issue for him, and he believes organizations such as Surfrider are seeking “a rewilding of the coast in urban areas at any cost.”

“I grew up here,” McDermott said. “It’s not like I’m some oil baron redneck that just showed up here and loves cement. The opponents say seawalls will be like a Berlin Wall from here to San Francisco. But nobody mentions the safety issue.”

3 comments

Charlie McDermott May 24, 2020 at 10:19 am

Dear Managed Retreat Lobby,

Please come clean on your efforts to slow, block, and diminish sand replenishment on Leucadia beaches so you can manage retreat us all.

Because of such efforts the beach from Grandview past Beacons is currently EXCLUDED from Army Corp sand replenishment projects. The exclusion blocks oceanfront owners along the coast from forming a legally binding self tax (called a geologic hazard abatement district or GHAD) to fund a 50 year sand replenishment project. One example of the Surfrider’s direct attempt to limit sand on our local beaches in at http://www.socalbluffalliance.com.

As you well know each lot has a soil report and from those erosion rates (~ 2-4 inches/year) x the surface area of the vertical bluff face it is clear that each lot loses just a few cubic yards (or less) of dirt every year. This is a tiny fraction of the overall beach sand and will do nothing to offset the sand deficit we have now.

The deficit that we have comes from less river output and North to South sand flow blocks from harbors and jettys – you also know this.

Under SB1090 the $25,000 sand permit fee (like for fixing drainage) will buy like 1,000 cubic yards of sand (Google it) which for a 50 foot wide lot = a 10 foot high pile of sand 50 feet wide that goes out 60 feet. This excess fee was in order to get more sand on the beach now.

In fact if I tried right now to put 1,000 cubic yards of sand on Beacons I would spend many times that fighting your lawyers and the CA Coastal Comission and nothing would get done. You all have been very successful so feel free to brag to the public.

Further if we were allowed to form a GHAD we evil homeowners plus Federal and State funds would easily fund sand replenishment for 50 years. This was tried in Malibu and the homeowners spent $17,000,000 in court trying to give the public free sand for B road Beach and were blocked the CC and managed retreaters.

And as for the 1% class warfare distraction please state for the public who the top 5 donors to your organization are. Hint multi billion dollar out of town organizations and global investment funds that funnel tax deductible influence through your organization.

Dear Public,

We had to use the word “seawall” in AB1090 because any cave fill, notch infill, base toe, etc would be deemed a seawall and killed. If this clarification for SB1090 scope is all that is needed for a fix – no problem. And if we can get true sand replenishment to be allowed for all our beached many such fixes will be below the sand level anyway.

The bill was about erosion mitigation and public safety and a very experienced coastal engineer was on the team. Funny how none of this retaining walls cause erosion is ever an issue for inland retaining walls.

I have done what I can to shine light on what has been going on behind closed doors and now it is up to the public to decide if they want real sand replenishment and bluff erosion mitigation.

Charlie McDermott

PS I pay very substantial property taxes and my house is in no danger – but the public is.

Reply
Dr. Matt Forrest, PhD Oceanography May 25, 2020 at 2:44 pm

I have a PhD in Oceanography, and I can tell you with all confidence that this bill would end up having the exact opposite effect that the people supporting it are trying to sell here.

Here are the only three quotes from this story that you need to read:

McDermott, who recently purchased a home along the bluff on Neptune Avenue in Leucadia, has an inherent conflict of interest in his support of SB 1090.

“He’s worried about his property,” Jaffee said. “But the only people sacrificing will be the beachgoing public.”

State Sen Pat Bates, who represents the 36th District covering South Orange County, North San Diego County and Camp Pendleton, acknowledged Jaffee’s concerns of shoreline reduction but noted the bill does attempt to mitigate these issues.

“I’m not disputing that when there are seawalls, you lose beach,” Bates told The Coast News. “But when you’re replenishing, you are basically repairing the beach. This particular bill requires individuals seeking mitigation to provide that and it’s not an inexpensive process.”

So, we have a guy who owns a McMansion on a cliff and a CA State Senator who is getting huge donations from other McMansion owners who are arguing that we need to destroy beaches to save their McMansions at the expense of millions of Californians who have the God-Given (and lawful) right t access and recreate on OUR beaches!

David Revell, founding principal and chief scientist of Integral Consulting, an environmental consulting firm, said the building of seawalls is likely more responsible for bluff erosion than the development at the top of the cliffs.

“To say that seawalls would help the public is a farce,” Revell said. “Coastal armoring shouldn’t be used as a public safety measure to protect private property unless there are substantial public benefits of the project for a set period of time. The priority should be protecting the beach and access to it. That’s where cities and counties get their revenue.

“I don’t think the answer is to circumnavigate the Coastal Act to protect a few one-percenters that have had that property for 50 years and are paying next to nothing in property taxes because of Prop 13,” Revell said.

Amen!

Reply
Michael Sebahar May 30, 2020 at 5:33 pm

Beware of this Trojan Horse. Regardless of it’s dubious stated intentions to protect the general public, the outcome of this’s bill’s passage would be a massive escalation in unsightly sea walls along the coastline so that ocean front homeowners can protect their property values. The environmental insult to the beach and coastline would be devastating and irreparable and any suggestions to the contrary go against existing science and data. The numerous volunteer organizations that Mr. McDermott refers to disparagingly as the “Managed Retreat Lobby” are in fact an impressive group of organizations who have worked tirelessly for decades to protect the coast and improve the general public’s experience of it’s amazing natural resources. To suggest that we can artificially improve on this process with massive seawalls is absurd. The “sand mitigation offset” idea is woefully inadequate and there are much better legislative ways to facilitate the replenishment of sand on our beaches.
We are extremely fond of the Davis family and our hearts genuinely go out to them in the wake of this undeniable tragedy. But this bill introduced by Pate Bates is an inappropriate response to this extremely rare event and is reckless. Passage of this bill would lead to a tragic diminishment of the Coastline aesthetics and environmental stability.

Michael Sebahar, M.D.
Co-Founder
People for Ponto

Reply

Leave a Comment