The Coast News Group
Bluff Collapse Grandview
Beach towels and chairs remain at the scene of a bluff collapse at Grandview Surf Beach. File photo
Community Commentary Opinion

Opinion: Shore up bluffs to save lives and preserve beach access

Coastal erosion has wreaked havoc on communities along California’s coastline for years as increasing amounts of bluffs are collapsing onto our beaches.

This harsh reality became a deadly one in Encinitas at Grandview Beach in August 2019.

An oceanfront bluff suddenly collapsed without warning and killed three members of a family who had gathered to celebrate Elizabeth Cox’s victory over breast cancer. Elizabeth, her sister Julie Davis, and her niece Annie Clave, all perished.

There could have been more fatalities had friends and other family members present at the celebration not been a few feet away from the impact area at the time of the collapse.

The Encinitas tragedy followed similar bluff collapse fatalities in 1995, 2000, 2002, and 2008. In October 2018, a concrete beach walkway near the back of Capistrano Beach collapsed because of ocean driven erosion.

In November 2019, a major bluff collapse in Del Mar put the entire coastal rail-line in jeopardy and will now cost $100 million to repair.

Concerns over more bluff collapses have become especially acute in San Diego and Orange Counties. Millions of people visit our beaches each year but are forced to sit at the base of at-risk bluffs due to the lack of sand replenishment and minimal beach area during mid to high tides.

While the California Coastal Act of 1976 requires any construction that alters natural shoreline processes to be permitted by the California Coastal Commission or a local government with an approved local coastal program, their current coastal management strategy does not prioritize erosion mitigation.

Doing nothing to prevent additional bluff collapses is not acceptable.

While some believe that we should just “retreat” and let erosion continue unchecked, it begs the question, where does the retreat end? There has to be a better way than just waving the white flag and surrendering both public and private properties and facilities.

In partnership with many local residents who love our coast, I have introduced Senate Bill 1090 to help save lives, preserve beach access and essential infrastructure, ensure local control, and protect property rights.

SB 1090 would require the California Coastal Commission to approve a public agency’s or homeowner’s application for erosion mitigation efforts for planting, drainage, and seawall or shoreline protective device installation – but only if they meet certain requirements for coastal mitigation. If an applicant is granted a permit, they would also pay for a specified amount of sand replenishment and permit processing costs.

The Coastal Commission would be required to respond to such a request within 30 days. Unless an application constitutes a substantial threat to public safety, coastal erosion mitigation projects would move forward under specific regulations.

If a project is denied, the Coastal Commission would need to respond within 30 days with the reason and documentation for the denial.

SB 1090 would also require the Coastal Commission to identify plant species native to Orange and San Diego counties, and specifies that a property owner would not be required to obtain approval from the Coastal Commission or a local government for the planting of those identified species, which will also help mitigate further erosion.

While powerful forces prefer the state stick to the status quo of doing nothing to shore up our bluffs and improve public safety, I say we must do better.

With the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee scheduled to consider SB 1090 on May 26, I hope a bipartisan majority of the committee members will agree that the time to act is now before more lives are lost.

Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) represents the 36th Senate District in the California Legislature, which covers North County San Diego as well as southern Orange County.

8 comments

Kevin Krause May 21, 2020 at 4:38 pm

Although this bill is well intended, it is very flawed.

30% of our SoCal coastline is already armored against the ocean. This has already denuded many beaches of sand and created even more erosion everywhere else. The beaches are already gone in too many places – go to DM, SB or Encinitas at high tide and there are no beaches left. This bill will only accelerate this trend. More seawalls only make sand disappear even faster in a spiralling cycle we will lose and this will lead to even more bluff collapses at the 70% of coastline that is not armored.

https://sandiego.surfrider.org/oppose-sb-1090

Please take action to save our beaches!
Seawalls create a lot of problems because when a property owner builds one in front of their home, the structure itself accelerates erosion up and down the beach. This causes a domino effect where everyone rushes to get their own seawall (30% of SoCal coastline is already armored!) – the end result being accelerated erosion that causes our sandy beaches to narrow and disappear.

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Beach Protector May 21, 2020 at 9:27 pm

Nature will win eventually, no matter what. The tragedies are terrible. Armoring the coastline is a bad idea, We need to recognize that our human activities have disrupted the natural processes of erosion and beach replenishment. Not all sections of the coastline are appropriate for human recreational activities.

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Matt Forrest May 22, 2020 at 10:24 am

I earned a PhD in Oceanography and I can tell you that the actual scientists and engineers studying this vehemently disagree with Sen. Pat Bates’ opinions regarding seawalls and cliff stabilization efforts. I am more than happy to put her touch with some of them so she can learn more about the real science behind this complex issue.

Top scientists agree that if you build seawalls to “protect” these alluvium seacliffs, you will: 1) starve the beach of any new sand; and 2) drown out the beach in front of the seawall as the sea rises. In fact, If this coastal squeeze continues, two-thirds of beaches could vanish by the end of the century. This also causes people to sit CLOSER to the cliffs as the beach shrinks–having the opposite effect of Pat Bates’ opinion piece.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-08-08/encinitas-cliff-collapse-erosion-california-coast?fbclid=IwAR388kEx4JoVLE6ADkM8mKwIUTvbfPYiUKW9R3fbtiwooZCIGTddkBrQzWQ

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Charlie McDermott May 22, 2020 at 3:14 pm

Dear Surfrider and Managed Retreat Advocates,

The sand for the beaches comes from rivers and flows North to South. Outflows have been diminished as has the North to South flow – it is blocked by harbors and jettys. Look at the North side of Oceanside harbor vs the South side, same with Newport Harbor as examples. Thus to get meaningful sand on the beach you need to dredge from offshore and lagoons.

Very little beach sand comes from the bluffs and they are killing people. The bluffs would have to retreat many yards all at once to put sand on the beach – Leucadia bluffs are losing ~2 inches per year and you know this is all settled science so drop the sea wall lie. Plus why does Cardiff and Carlsbad campgrounds have no sand? They have no seawalls and why doesn’t Scripps have a seawall and sand and why doesn’t Scripps Institute of Oceanography take theirs down?

The Surfrider, The Coastal Comission and the like have been delaying and blocking meaningful beach replenishment efforts every step of the way. Oceanfront owners in Malibu offered to pay 100% of the costs to put sand on the beach for decades and spent $17,000,000 in court with all the managed retreaters until the effort failed. Thus the public got screwed – Broad beach is now narrow beach.

I have the letter (as one example we will post soon) you all sent to the Army Corps of Engineers as part of your constant efforts to block, delay and reduce sand eligibility for Encinitas. Now Grandview past Beacons CANNOT get sand even if the money was donated and the material was flowing. You complained on my behalf that too much sand was proposed and without tearing out the seawalls as part of your managed retreat proposal would not serve your managed retreat goals for the townsfolk.

By excluding most of Leucadia from sand eligibility the ability of the ocean front homeowners to help significantly fund sand replenishment was killed.

SB1090 had to use the word “seawall” in the bill because without it you and the CC would block any cave fill, notch infill, or 5 foot base toe because you would classify as a “seawall.” With no sand per your MO you have massive bluff failures and giant emergency seawalls go up. This is an easy fix but once that is done you will demand more studies and cook up more issues. I get it your payroll depends on fulfilling the out of area paymaster aims – engineered coastal collapse at all costs.

I grew up in a surfing family and everyone I know who understands how your organization has degenerated would like for you all to stop pretending you have our interest at heart. You do not speak for me or many other surfers I know.

Dear Public,

Thank the Surfrider and the supportive politicians for working hard to keep sand off the beach. Based on my experience over the last 26 years they have done an excellent job.

Oceanfront homeowners are totally blocked from pooling resources to help significantly fund putting sand on the beach and without your help to get the politicians fearful for their jobs NOTHING will happen for many years. Sand replenishment and bluff erosion mitigation is not coming anytime soon unless you demand it.

But with enough political pressure we can hopefully clear the path to getting this done.

Please visit http://www.socalbluffalliance.com and sign the petition.

Regards,

Charlie McDermott

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Matt Forrest May 22, 2020 at 4:09 pm

Sorry Charlie, but the scientists completely disagree with you and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. NO amount of cliff stabilization efforts would have saved those poor folks in Encinitas.

Top scientists agree that if you build seawalls to “protect” these alluvium seacliffs, you will: 1) starve the beach of any new sand; and 2) drown out the beach in front of the seawall as the sea rises. In fact, If this coastal squeeze continues, two-thirds of beaches could vanish by the end of the century. This also causes people to sit CLOSER to the cliffs as the beach shrinks–having the opposite effect of Pat Bates’ opinion piece.

Not sure what your agenda is, but it is NOT good science!

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Charlie McDermott May 22, 2020 at 5:00 pm

Dear Matt,

Thanks for the help – we did use experts.

Per the Surfrider talking point – Are saying that the vast majority of the sand for the beach comes from the bluffs? So if naked bluffs eroded we would not have the massive sand deficit?

Let’s walk through your position.

Assume a 10 foot high beach bluff face for a 50 foot wide lot erodes at 2 inches per year for 10 years. This erosion rate is not atypical; all lots have publicly available soil reports.

After 10 years of erosion (and maybe a fatality) you get (10 x 1.7 x 50) ft = 800 cubic feet of sand or 30.8 cubic yards of “stuff” with a 70% sand content; the net is ~ 22 cubic yards of beach sand. Seriously, did I get this wrong? – seems very low.

22 cubic yards of sand over 10 years IS NOTHING compared to what we lose from the other sources mentioned in my earlier post; 22 cubic yards can be cleared out by a single storm.

So to satisfy you, the Surfrider, and the CA CC the lot owner could offset a full top to bottom 10 foot seawall by putting 22 cubic yards of sand on the beach every 10 years?

Everyone would take that deal since sand costs $15 – 20 per cubic yard.

SB1090 proposes that any permit (like for drainage) would cost up to $25,000 for the sand offset. This buys over 1,500 cubic yards of sand = many decades of offset or many times the loss of sand.

Maybe you can call senator Bates and have her adjust the fees way down.

Our beaches need hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand on a regular schedule via dredging – not dirt from trucks.

SB1090 is a sincere fix for a now problem.

Regards,

Charlie McDermott

PS You quoted the LA Times on this issue?

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Charlie McDermott May 24, 2020 at 10:05 am

Dear Matt,

Thanks for the help – we did use experts including a very experienced coastal engineer volunteer.

Per the Surfrider talking point – Are saying that the vast majority of the sand for the beach comes from the bluffs? So if naked bluffs eroded we would not have the massive sand deficit?

Let’s walk through your position.

Assume a 10 foot high beach bluff face for a 50 foot wide lot erodes at 2 inches per year for 10 years (1.7 feet). This erosion rate is not atypical; all lots have publicly available soil reports.

After 10 years of erosion (and maybe a fatality) you get (10 x 1.7 x 50) ft = 800 cubic feet of dirt or 30.8 cubic yards X a 70% sand content; the net is ~ 22 cubic yards of beach sand. Seriously, did I get this wrong? – seems very low.

22 cubic yards of sand over 10 years IS NOTHING compared to what we lose from the other sources mentioned in my earlier post; 22 cubic yards can be cleared out by a single storm. A $25,000 permit fee (for like drainage) can buy around 1,000 cubic yards of sand.

So to satisfy you, the Surfrider, and the CA CC the lot owner could offset a full top to bottom 10 foot seawall by putting 22 cubic yards of sand on the beach every 10 years?

Everyone would take that deal since sand costs $15 – 30 per cubic yard.

SB1090 proposes that any permit (like for drainage) would cost up to $25,000 for the sand offset. This buys ~ 1,000 cubic yards of sand well beyond any offset. And this was to get more sand on the beach.

Maybe you can call senator Bates and have her adjust the fees way down.

Our beaches need hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand on a regular schedule via dredging – not dirt from trucks.

SB1090 is a sincere fix for a now problem.

Regards,

Charlie McDermott

PS You quoted the LA Times on this issue?

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Dr. Matt Forrest, PhD Oceanography May 24, 2020 at 10:26 am

“Very little beach sand comes from the bluffs and they are killing people”

This is blatantly false!

“After examining the population of sand grains on beaches in the La Jolla area, the Scripps team determined that sea cliffs must be an important source of sand to those beaches. Based on their observations, Haas and Driscoll concluded that 50 percent of the sand came from erosion of the bluffs and cliffs”

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