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Del Mar Beachfront Facing Challenges Of 'Managed Retreat'

New construction in Del Mar's beach community, Nov. 1, 2017.
Alison St John
New construction in Del Mar's beach community, Nov. 1, 2017.
Del Mar Beachfront Facing Challenges Of 'Managed Retreat'
Del Mar Beachfront Facing Challenges Of 'Managed Retreat' GUEST:Terry Gaasterland, chair, Del Mar Sea Level Rise Technical Advisory Committee

The city of Delmar is issued a report this week on how to adapt to sealevel rise. Alison St John says a report has been changed to remove a strategy that homeowners fear could affect their property values.Conservative projections says that Del Mar will experience sealevel rise. The first line of defense for many homes is the line that runs feet from the steep blobs of the beach but on the north end of the town a community of multimillion dollar homes since next to Sandy Shores. Homeowners were among those who reacted to a suggestion that the seawalls will not protect them.If you take out the seawalls, my neighbor is 6 1/2 feet lower than mine. If you take out those seawalls, the houses in the entire beach colony are underwater.Good luck because now you have to disclose that your property is under attack if you go to sell it. Good luck getting refined on something that is disappearing.Setting on the bluff Laura of the regional climate collaborative says Del Mar what a grant to work on plans for future sealevel rise. Del Mar is a small city.Del Mar is at the front end of some of the cities in California thinking about how to plan for these hazards and prepare the community.Economic studies show preparing for climate change may be expensive but it will be cheaper than waiting.So the losses in the future will be more expensive if we don't take action.A committee came up with a draft plan with triggers for when you start relocating public infrastructure like the pump station in the fire station that will eventually be threatened. There's a term for relocating them away from the coast. The City Councilman says because of the reaction from homeowners the concept for private property has been removed.Right now the draft does not talk about retreat and basically has removed retreat as one of the ways to resolve sealevel rise. We are trying to figure out how to thread the needle and ensuring that people don't feel threatened.Former Senator who owns a home in Del Mar speech committees says he and his neighbors were threatened by the draft report.The notion of plant retreats seems to us impractical and unworkable.He is part of a group of property owners. They want the report to avoid mentioning relocating property and instead focus on things like sand replenishment.People are committed to coming up with practical ways that maintain them. It has to include probably replenishment for that is appropriate.It is expensive and neighboring beaches have projects in the works with federal funding that could cost more than $150 million. He says the jury is still out if it is a strategy.If we are getting increasing storms and spending millions of dollars on sand and the storm is washing it out then that is not a cost-effective strategy.Del Mar is a small community. The approved a 1% sales tax that could be used to pay for sand replenishment.My take is if I look 50 years from now, somebody will say in 2010 or 2017 you guys could've created a plan and why didn't you? I don't want somebody to say that.Joining me is Terry Gaasterland, Del Mar Sea Level Rise Technical Advisory Committee chair and that committee is also known as STAC. The effort to face up to sealevel rise seems to be creating some divisions in the community. What is it like for you to be given this responsibility?It's been challenging, it's been educational and I have had to dig deep inside myself to rise to it and try to help the city of Delmar to move forward.It's very emotional for some people how do you deal with that?It is. We were not anticipating this. Last fall we pretty much rubberstamped the external consultants report that was given to the committee. That report was developed over a two-year period and our committee heard a lot of input in so much science and so much data and we thought hard about all the issues that we saw as a whole facing going forward. We step back and we said well is -- what is the realistic weight approaches and we decided to put all possible options on the table. That included manage retreat. What we didn't anticipate -- we did have a way to anticipate it was that the beach level community would be threatened I putting manage retreat on the table that there would be potential financial consequences and other consequences in that particular community weren't ready yet to deal with it.What have they already done to plan for sealevel rise?We got input from all stakeholders and that did include the beach community and also included the lifeguard, the railroad and the fairgrounds. We got so much data and so much feedback and input from everyone who has a stake in Del Mar being protected from the consequences of sealevel rise.We heard in the report that Del Mar approved a 1% sales tax that could be used to pay for sand replenishment. Where does your advisory committee stand on how well sand replenishment will work again sealevel rise?We got quite a bit of an education on where the sand goes along the Oceanside literal. We had a chapter 3 in the report that we added since June. The subcommittee research day and put together. The sand runs from north to south in general and during the winter the sand washes out in the summer sand comes in. Some of the sand that is replenished simply goes out off the coastline and it will come back on the coastline. It's not clear how much replenishment sand will stay local or will travel further south to help out other beaches.Since they are performing triggers for manage retreat from sealevel encroachment, it stands to reason that you believe that coastal private properties will be threatened as well. Why is it private property included in the plan?Let me correct one thing. In our revised version, we have removed the notion of triggers. Instead we are looking at the sealevel rise issues as much more analog that it's coming up in rather than looking at specific points when a option to come into play instead we say it's on its way up and it is accelerating or on its way up and sing pretty steady but it's on its way up. So let's start thinking about the next option. We are looking at thresholds which could be a difference but it's a softer way of thinking about it. So we removed the sealevel rise itself so that will be monitored. Rather than having that be what drives looking at the options, we look and said to things like extreme flooding events and how frequently are they happening? Is the beach shrinking? We decided to focus on the beach and maintaining a walkable beach in a healthy beach in the shorter run. That means the next 5 to 20 years, hopefully. That will protect everybody. It will protect private property, maintain the walkable beach for Del Mar and that will hopefully be enough if climate change can be turned around and we can control the warming as a global community. It is possible that the amount of sealevel rise won't be as terrible as some anticipate.Do you still have plans to relocate public infrastructure if indeed the storms get worse and the sealevel rise continues?So public infrastructure we consider on the sealevel rise community really important to think through and relocate. For private to some extent it's up to each homeowners decision what they want to do and how they want to protect themselves and we have a Beach preservation initiative that was passed in 1988 that's part of the local coastal program in Del Mar and that allows beachfront homeowners to build the seawall on their property and it was put in place to get seawalls that had some encroachment onto public property off to public property. So Del Mar has a process for private property to think through how to be protected. The public infrastructure is more threatened. It's more threatened in the short run. For example, the fire station, we've got fiber-optic cables running along the top of the bluff and sewer lines running on the top of the bluff. That there is a railroad. Now we have this situation that's grown over time where we have an important corridor on leased land running along the top in Del Mar at the edge where a bluff is eroding away and that erosion is accelerating.I've been speaking with Terry Gaasterland, Del Mar Sea Level Rise Technical Advisory Committee . Thank you so much.Thank you.

The city of Del Mar plans to issue a new draft report this week on how to adapt to sea level rise. The report has been changed to remove a strategy that homeowners fear could affect their property values.

Del Mar is a small city, with fewer than 5,000 residents, but that makes it a good petri dish for trying new things. Laura Engeman of the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative said that is one reason the city won a grant from the California Coastal Commission to start working on adaptation plans for future sea level rise.

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“These are really hard questions for any community to tackle,” Engeman said. “And a city like Del Mar that’s very small, it’s like looking through a microscope at all of the issues. In a very small community, you’ve got all of the stakeholders here and they’re the same issues that are relatable to virtually any coastal community in California.”

STAC

For the past two years, Del Mar’s Sea Level Rise Technical Advisory Committee, or STAC, has been working on a strategy.

“Del Mar really is at the front end of some of the cities in California,“ Engeman said, “really thinking about how to plan for these hazards and prepare the community. Del Mar is the first community to develop a community-wide plan that holistically looks at its vulnerabilities and what it’s going to do to prepare for that."

Conservative projections conclude Del Mar will experience one foot of sea level rise by the year 2050, three feet by the next century.

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STAC came up with a draft plan that includes triggers for when to relocate infrastructure,a strategy known as “managed retreat.” The city’s pump station and a fire station, for example, will be threatened by regular flooding at some point and will need to be moved.

For many homes in Del Mar, the first line of defense against rising seas and eroding coastline is the railway line that runs just feet from the edge of the steep bluffs overlooking the beach.

However, at the north end of town, a beach community of about 300 multi-million dollar homes sits right next to the sand. Seawalls protect those fronting the ocean from high tides and storms.

At a STAC meeting in September, homeowners in the beach community reacted to any mention in the report of relocating private property, or suggestions their seawalls will not protect them forever.

“If you take out the seawall," said Larry Hayward, "my neighbor behind my house is six and a half feet below mine, so if you take out those sea walls, those houses in the entire beach colony are underwater."

“Good luck, because now you have to disclose that your properties are under attack if you go to sell it,” said Lucille Lindsay. “Good luck getting refinanced on something that is technically disappearing.”

Some at the meeting expressed skepticism about the science of climate change and sea level rise.

“The analysis of global warming has been one of the greatest absurd propositions of modern times," said Jerry Jacob, “with a tiny fraction of data on climate change from 1850 forward. I think the earth’s been around a lot longer than that.”

Ironically, the scientist who developed the Keeling Curve — a measurement of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere and a key indicator of global warming — was a Del Mar resident.

Del Mar Plans To Combat Sea Rise Along The Coast

Del Mar City Councilman Dave Druker said Charles David Keeling was also the father of Del Mar’s community plan. That, Druker said, is the reason most houses on the bluffs in Del Mar are set further back from the edge than in most other coastal cities.

“They were thoughtful when they created the community plans: let’s keep stuff at least 50 feet from the bluff,” Druker said. “So I’m not going to argue with Dave Keeling.”

But, Druker said, because of the reaction from private property owners, the concept of “managed retreat” for private property has been removed from the draft adaptation plan.

“Right now the draft does not talk about retreat, it basically has removed retreat as one of the ways to resolve sea level rise,” he said. “We are trying to figure out how to thread the needle of good policy and making sure people don’t feel threatened."

Del Mar Beach Preservation Coalition

But former California Sen. Mark Wyland, who owns a home in Del Mar’s beach community, said he and his neighbors felt blindsided by the STAC report and threatened by its recommendations.

“It’s been going on, but we weren’t really aware of it until that meeting,” he said, “which is why you saw such a big turn out, and a lot of emotional responses. The notion of planned retreat seems to us impractical and unworkable.”

Del Mar City Councilman Dave Druker on the bluffs overlooking the North County beach community, Nov. 7, 2017.
Nicholas McVicker
Del Mar City Councilman Dave Druker on the bluffs overlooking the North County beach community, Nov. 7, 2017.

Wyland is part of a newly formed group of private property owners, The Del Mar Beach Preservation Coalition. They want the adaptation report to avoid mentioning relocating property and instead focus on things like sand replenishment to preserve the beach.

“This is why people want to be here,” Wyland said, gesturing toward the sand. “And we have to maintain it. People are committed to coming up with practical ways to maintain that. It has to include, probably, replenishment, where that’s appropriate."

Sand replenishment is expensive. A San Diego Association of Governments program in 2012 cost $28 million. Neighboring Encinitas and Solana Beach have sand replenishment projects in the works with federal funding: they could cost more than $150 million over the next 50 years.

Engeman said the jury is still out on whether sand replenishment is a cost-effective strategy.

“Because if we’re getting increasing coastal storms and we’re spending millions of dollars on sand that a coastal storm is washing over 50 percent of in the next season, then that’s probably not a cost-effective strategy for most communities,” Engeman said.

Engeman said economic studies show that preparing for climate change may be expensive, but in the long run, it will be cheaper than waiting.

“The losses in the future are going to be greater and more expensive if we don’t take action now,” she said.

Del Mar is an affluent community. Druker said residents recently approved a 1 percent sales tax that could raise more than $1 million a year. That could be used to pay for sand replenishment, he said. But that won’t hold back the sea forever.

“My take on this is,” he said, “if I look 50 years from now — I won’t be alive — but somebody will say, ‘in 2010 or in 2017, somebody could have created a plan, why didn’t you?’ and I don’t want somebody to say that.”

Looking out across a low sea wall at the waves breaking on the sandy beach beyond, Wyland said he hasn’t got a plan, at least not yet.

“No, not really,” he said. “At some point, you have to do that. I haven’t.”