Del Mar Still Working Out Plans To Deal With Rising Ocean
The city of Del Mar and the California Coastal Commission have put off a decision that would have tackled the difficult issue of managing climate change.
The coastal regulators and San Diego’s smallest coastal city are locked in a battle over how to plan for sea-level rise.
The upscale enclave of about 4,500 residents is just over two square miles in size, but it could impact how communities along the California coast plan for climate change.
That is in large part because sea-level rise threatens more than $1 billion worth of prime coastal real estate.
“That’s a difficult issue in Del Mar,” said Terry Gaasterland, a Del Mar City Council Member. “Because we have 600 homes that are vulnerable and at-risk if we initiate managed retreat on the beachfront homes.”
Homes right along the beach are actually in a better spot.
Those houses sit about 13 feet above sea level. Gaasterland says homes behind them are only seven to five feet above.
And there is no appetite for giving the property back to the ocean.
So Del Mar’s plan is to bolster local beaches with sand and protect lower-lying homes close to a lagoon and river with a natural berm.
That’s enough for now, argue city officials, and it will be enough for the next few decades.
“After that 50-year mark, after 2070. The cone of uncertainty broadens. And so to plan for the worst-case scenario is to plan for great extremes... that we don’t know what timeline it’s on.”
State not convinced
But the California Coastal Commission is not convinced the Del Mar local coastal plan does enough.
Commission staff is recommending rejecting the coastal development blueprint unless the city accepts 25 amendments.
The coastal staff praised the city for its near term plan but found the document lacking when it comes to long-term strategies. City officials worry those changes are just a clever way to introduce managed retreat.
“And buried in those 25 changes is what I characterize as take-backs. It is an undermining of the basic premise that they’re letting us go with our plan A. They’re not,” said Dwight Worden, a Del Mar City Councilmember.
The Surfrider Foundation disagrees. The organization has long advocated against armoring the coast to protect the land from the ocean. Surfrider argues the commission changes are practical and help the community draw up a long term plan to cope with a retreating shoreline.
“We cannot put our heads in the sand and look down the road and pretend that we’re not going to have to deal with that,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn. “So, if we do that now, we put our head in the sand now, and ignore the inevitable parts of climate change it's just going to get harder in the future.”
Adjusting the local coastal plan would allow Del Mar to prepare now for changes that are coming.
“It’s the long term proactive planning that Surfrider wants to get out there,” Sekich-Quinn said. “Because, again, we owe it to future generations for them to have these tools. Because when the time comes they’re going to need to have all of these things on the table.”
Change is happening
And change is already underway. The ocean is getting warmer, ice sheets are melting, and the pace of ocean level rise is increasing.
Researchers can predict that change will happen, but they find it difficult to say with certainty how much will change and how fast that change will occur.
That makes policy discussions difficult.
“We need to think about ways that the science can support those adaptation pathways,” said Laura Engeman, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “And give a sense for the pace and acceleration as much as possible. One thing we can do is work with our cities to really develop more strategic monitoring so that we’re really tracking what’s happening to our shoreline.”
The Coastal Commission and Del Mar city staff continue to talk about the city’s local coastal plan in an effort to find common ground. A decision on this issue could set a precedent for the rest of the state’s coastal communities.