Legislation extends studies of coastal erosion in Del Mar, Encinitas

A surfer uses the stairs down to Beacon's Beach in Encinitas after the trail reopened in June 2022.
(Bill Wechter / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Governor signs Boerner’s bill funding research by Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Gov. Newsom has signed a bill extending the sunset date for research on landslides and coastal erosion in San Diego County hot spots such as Del Mar and Encinitas.

The extension will cover delays that prevented the timely installation of key sensors, including a subsurface meter used to detect small-scale ground movement of the bluff at Beacons Beach in Encinitas.

A landslide closed the steep, switch-back trail to Beacons Beach for two months last year. Since then, the city has been working with the state Parks Department and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to monitor signs of another slide.

“Bluff failures are a constant threat to beachgoers and coastal neighborhoods throughout California,” Assemblymember Tasha Boerner, D-Encinitas, said in a news release Monday. “AB 72 ensures we have enough time to consider the data-driven outcomes holistically, which is necessary to keep our communities safe in the face of sea-level rise.”

AB 72 extends the three-year deadline set in 2021 by Boerner’s AB 66, which secured $2.5 million in the state budget for research on cliff erosion. Boerner’s North County district includes Grandview Beach in Encinitas, where a 30-by-20-foot chunk of sandstone fell on three women, killing them in August 2019.

The study is led by Scripps coastal geomorphologist Adam Young and Scripps research geophysicist Mark Zumberge. Their work uses ground monitoring devices and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a system that scans the cliffs with lasers to create three-dimensional maps of the coast.

“We aim to gain a better understanding of the processes leading up to cliff failures,” Zumberge said in the release. “Our goal is to learn how deformations are impacted by tides, large surf, groundwater and rainfall to see if we can answer the question of whether signals exist that can forecast where and when an increased risk for collapse is developing.”

The work could lead to the creation of an early warning notification system to help keep communities safe, he said.

Young has been surveying the coastal cliffs of San Diego County with LiDAR for several years. The data is used with previous surveys and information from other sensors to identify erosion processes and patterns.

The new deadline for the research is Jan. 1, 2026. Scripps will provide a report to the Legislature by the end of March 2026.

Cliffs account for the largest part of California’s more than 1,000 miles of coastline. Landslides and collapses have accounted for multiple deaths in recent decades and place coastal infrastructure such as homes, highways, railroads and more at risk.

Last year, the state allocated $300 million to advance studies of a proposal to move 1.7 miles of the coastal rail route off the eroding bluffs in Del Mar. Construction of a new inland route through a tunnel has been estimated to cost $4 billion or more.

Also, just north of San Diego County, earlier this year, the Orange County Transportation Authority authorized spending $2 million for the initial phases of a study that will consider moving about 7 miles of railroad track inland away from the coast between San Clemente and Dana Point.