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City plans emergency repairs for Beacon’s Beach

Surfers make their way down to Beacon's Beach.
Surfers make their way down to Beacon’s Beach.
( / Jared Whitlock)

Encinitas has declared a local emergency to shore up the base of Beacon’s Beach, a key to preventing a landslide there. All that’s needed: suitable sand.

The city planned to take nearby sand and create a protective berm at the bottom of the Beacon’s bluff, but recent storms washed away potential sand sources in the area.

“We’re still looking at the site, we’re still monitoring it and we’re still trying to find sources of sand,” said Glenn Pruim, director of public works and engineering, during a Jan. 13 update to the Encinitas City Council.

For years, many have worried another bluff collapse at Beacon’s could wipe out the winding beach access trail and cliff-top parking lot. The danger appears to have grown.

Beacon’s recently lost a lot of sand that protected the foot of the bluff, a part that’s critical to its stability, according to a staff report. Now, the bluff is particularly vulnerable to the combination of big waves, common during El Nino winters like this one, and high tide events.

The report goes on to say a geotechnical engineer found Beacon’s is “only marginally stable.”

Pruim said city staff members have coordinated with contractors for work on the Beacon’s berm. The city is just waiting on firm sand.

City Manager Karen Brust in late December declared a local emergency for repairs not only at Beacon’s, but also Moonlight Beach and near “restaurant row” in Cardiff. The city built a sand berm in front of the lifeguard tower at moonlight beach and plans riprap — a series of rocks — by restaurant row to protect Coast Highway 101. Pruim detailed these efforts, along with the Beacon’s plan, at the Jan. 13 meeting.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said to avoid continuous repairs in the future, the city needs to proactively plan for rising sea levels. Shaffer added she looks forward to putting together a climate action plan with strategies for coastal spots that are susceptible to damage.

The emergency repairs are only intended as short-term measures. Long term, the city wants to stabilize the bottom of the Beacon’s bluff with soil cement — a mixture of cement and sand.

Any longstanding solution at Beacon’s would need to pass muster with the California Coastal Commission, which has discouraged another method of shoring up bluffs: seawalls. The commission argues fixed structures choke off a natural source of sand.

City officials have said soil cement strikes a balance between engineering and environmental needs, because it can be engineered to erode at roughly the same speed as the cliff, contributing some sediment to the beach.

Yet it remains to be seen whether the commission supports the approach.

After the meeting, Pruim did not respond to an email by press time inquiring about where the commission stands on soil cement.

Earlier attempts to secure Beacon’s have fallen through. In 2009, the city was poised to stabilize Beacon’s with a seawall, but the state parks department said a seawall isn’t consistent with its environmental policies. However, the state parks department has voiced support for soil cement, which could help the city make its case with the coastal commission.

The city operates Beacon’s through a 20-year agreement with the state parks department.

Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear confirmed that if it takes a little while to find sand and the emergency declaration expires, the city could declare another one to stabilize Beacon’s.

Encinitas councilmembers didn’t talk much about Beacon’s at the meeting, but in the past they have urged city staff to find a long-term solution.


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