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Early Warning System Proposed For San Diego’s Failing Coastal Bluffs

The beaches of Del Mar just below Seagrove Park. April 16, 2021.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: The beaches of Del Mar just below Seagrove Park. April 16, 2021.

The coastal bluffs along San Diego’s North County beaches are like a ticking time bomb that have collapsed in the past. Researchers are now trying to get ahead of mother nature and come up with an early warning system for beachgoers

California Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath wants to pass a bill that would create an early warning system when the bluffs are in danger of failing.

“If they just had an early warning notification system ... if there was a light or a sound, that family could have run into the ocean and avoided the tragedy that happened," she said.

A bluff collapse in Leucadia claimed the lives of three women back in 2019.

Reported by Tania Thorne , Video by Matthew Bowler

If AB 66 is approved, the bill would allocate $2.5 million to Scripps Institution of Oceanography for research to create an early warning system.

“The scientists at Scripps started already doing some of the research but they really need the $2.5 million to accelerate that, and be very specifically focused under what the conditions of bluff collapse are in,” Boerner Horvath said.

Scripps would study the bluffs from Torrey Pines to Oceanside, but Boerner Horvath said the findings would be beneficial statewide.

“That data is super important for the rest of our state. That tragedy that happened in Leucadia, we’re not isolated. It happened in Santa Cruz, it happened in San Francisco, and it's going to accelerate,” said Assembly member Boerner Horvath.

The bill would require the research to be completed by January 2025.

In the meantime, transit officials have been installing support columns and doing emergency repairs to prevent the bluffs from collapsing, thereby preserving the railways atop the bluffs.

Photo credit: SANDAG

Undated photo of cranes and crew doing repairs on rail lines atop Del Mar coastal bluffs.

John Haggerty, the director of engineering and construction for SANDAG, said while the repairs and reduced train speeds help prevent bluff accidents, the rail lines will need relocation.

“We’re really anticipating the region will move the rail inland and I think that's a necessity. Not just because mother nature is going to catch up to us, but to make the rail line faster and more efficient for the region,” said Haggerty.

SANDAG has five potential alternative routes to relocate the rail lines and has conducted soil studies to determine the safest route.

RELATED: Del Mar Bluff Repairs Cause Another Full Weekend Rail Closure

Haggerty said the relocation is still decades away, but research from Scripps could be a great tool in getting ahead of mother nature.

“I think that would be fantastic. If somebody could point to us and say ‘Hey, this is getting weak here, you need to do something on this area of the bluff.' That would allow us not to be in a reactive situation and be more proactive,” said Haggerty.

The repairs on the coastal bluffs will continue interrupting rail schedules with another closure this weekend. The rail line between Solana Beach and San Diego will be closed from Saturday to early morning Tuesday.

Photo credit: SANDAG

Undated photo of cranes and crew doing repairs on rail lines atop Del Mar coastal bluffs.

AB 66 passed out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on March 24 on an 8-1 vote.

It is now awaiting a vote by the appropriations committee on or before May 21.

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Photo of Tania Thorne

Tania Thorne
North County Reporter

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