Encinitas beach-goers and bluff-top homeowners announced Monday that they have reached a compromise over how to shore up eroding cliffs without limiting access to the narrow beach below.
Rather than place a 20-foot-wide, 10-foot-tall barrier of boulders at the bluff base on Stone Steps Beach--as homeowners had requested--the compromise calls for a contoured seawall that would extend 18 inches from the bluff and match it in color and texture, representatives of both groups said Monday.
"The rip-rap would have projected 20 feet onto the beach. Eighteen inches is a very minor protrusion," said Rick Shea, representative for the Save Our Steps Committee, which opposed the boulder plan. "The texture and color will match the bluffs, so, aesthetically, it's much, much better."
Although both sides seemed pleased with the compromise, which they plan to present to the City Council on Wednesday, many homeowners have said they can't afford the $1,000 per foot price for the wall. Other critics say a seawall will worsen beach erosion as waves scour away already dwindling beach sand.
A September City Council decision to allow a dozen Neptune Avenue homeowners emergency permits to proceed with the rip-rap was met by a flood of opposition from beach-goers who complained that they would lose access to precious public beach.
In October, after 200 people jammed council chambers to protest the emergency permits, the City Council reversed its decision and directed the Save Our Steps representatives to get together with the homeowners and hammer out their differences.
Much to their surprise, negotiations went smoothly.
"I think we went to the table with hope but not very much conviction that we would arrive at a solution," said Bob Trettin, a land-use consultant who represents about 22 homeowners in the area who fear their properties are in imminent danger of collapsing.
"I expected a much longer, drawn-out, uphill battle," said rip-rap opponent Dennis Stubblefield.
The wall would be made of Shot-Crete, concrete applied with a spray that can match the contour of the eroded bluff base, and would be about 9 feet tall, engineer Roger Zimmerman said.
Although the cost of the wall is about double that of rip-rap, it could last for 10 or 20 years before requiring repair, while rip-rap could be displaced by waves within five years, he added.
Traditional, straight seawalls are known to worsen erosion of the portions of bluff that are not protected, but Zimmerman said the contoured shape of the proposed wall will ease the pressure on surrounding bluff.
The area where the wall would be falls within the 2-mile stretch of coastline from Moonlight Beach to Ponto Beach that some experts say contains the county's most unstable string of bluffs.
Trettin estimates about 1,200 feet of wall would be built, but Neptune Avenue homeowner Arthur Auerbach says up to half the homeowners who wanted to place rip-rap at the base of their properties find the wall too costly. The final product, then, could be a string of short stretches of wall.
"Everyone says they can't afford it. I think we're going to lose 30% to 50% of our group," Auerbach said. But the cost of the wall is still less than that of a traditional seawall, he said, and homeowners realized they would eventually have to pay to have the temporary rip-rap removed from the beach, after they had already paid to have it installed.
"What I hope, personally, is that this becomes a wake-up call for everyone," Auerbach said. "When we build it, if it does stop erosion and hold back upper bluff failure, it could inspire others to do something before a major bluff failure occurs."
The City Council must grant homeowners access to the beach and bluffs in order to build the wall, and the matter must also go before the State Lands and California Coastal commissions, which will decide whether or not to grant the project emergency status, Trettin said.
Work could begin within about 90 days, he said. The non-emergency permit process takes six to eight months, he said--time his clients feel they can't waste.
"I fully anticipate that there will be more bluff failure between now and February. That's the concern. There are houses right now that are severely jeopardized," Trettin said.
The compromise also calls for a citywide ban on rip-rap as a solution to eroding bluffs, and would only allow it as a temporary solution while a seawall is being built, Shea said.
Homeowners who irrigate the bluffs contribute to their eventual collapse, and the compromise also asks that the city become more vigilant in enforcing watering and building ordinances for the bluff areas.
The rip-rap permits were first approved as an interim solution, in part because Encinitas has not finished developing its local coastal plan. The drafted compromise to be presented to the council Wednesday also asks that development of the plan be speeded up, and that it include a plan to replenish the beaches with sand.