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Landslide shuts down controversial switchback trail at Beacon's Beach in Encinitas

The carved-out earthen steps down to Beacon's Beach in Encinitas have been damaged, many of them flattened. City engineers say it's because of a minor landslide. The parking lot and trail will be closed for at least 30 days, until engineers can assess the stability of the bluff.

"I think everyone is familiar with playing Jenga. That’s essentially what this is bluff and this landslide is like," said Mitch Silverstein, the policy coordinator of Surfrider Foundation. "Every time there’s a collapse or a landslide or movement, it’s like pulling little pieces out of the Jenga, and sooner or later the whole thing is going to come down."

Silverstein said the collapse that happened on Sunday night or Monday morning did not come as a surprise. "This collapse occurred basically precisely where the city of Encinitas geotechnical reports predicted that they would occur, because it’s no secret that the entire access trail to Beacon’s sits on an active landslide."

He said the trail has been at the center of a debate. A proposal to relocate the parking lot and add a staircase was rejected because of strong opposition. But Silverstein said this landslide makes it clear that the alternative access needs to be built.

"We’re not out here trying to say, we like staircases better than switchback trails," he said. "What we want is to maintain safe access for the public to a really great beach for as long as possible, for as many people as possible, and right now a staircase on the south side of the bluff — which is the most stable area — is the best way to do that."

While no one was injured in this event, in 2019 three women were killed in a bluff collapse at Grandview Beach, just north of Beacon's Beach. Now people have to go Grandview to gain access to Beacon's.

Local Nikki Harth owns the Surfhouse Hotel that’s just a block away. He said he's sad to see the closure, and said access is a big selling point for guests.

"This is the beach I was born and raised surfing, this is the beach I go to everyday myself," said Harth. "Just not being able to share this with our guests and just have the local community around ... it's going to be pretty, pretty gut wrenching."

Harth said he loves the trail but access is better than no access and now is the time to come together and find solutions. "Everyone is going to have their differences on what it should be but I think we need to work as a community to really find a way to get this done and hopefully as quick as possible."

Silverstein said this is a naturally occurring process that can be mitigated but ultimately can’t be stopped.

"We can’t save the bluff forever really if you think 50 or 100 years or even further into the future where that bluff sits today is where the beach will be for future generations," he said.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is studying the bluff in order to better understand and predict failures.

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