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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
October 18, 1999


Bluffs do not fail, they do erode, and have done so long before our ancestors came down out of the trees. Therefor the term bluff failure is a misnomer used to obscure the fact that the investment of a few homeowners did not pay off. Life on the coast is a gamble just ask folks in North Carolina. When Hurricanes devastate communities perched on the Atlantic coast do we say the loss of homes was due to weather failure? Of course not. Nature does what nature does regardless of the arbitrary notion of property and property rights.

The failure is that of homeowners, not grasping the fact that with a spectacular ocean view, comes the ocean. With the ocean comes waves, and with waves comes beach erosion. This process will continue despite any amount of concrete, and any amount of wishing it wasn't so. With other natural sources of sediment being halted by human developments such as jetties, groins, and earthen berms, the bluffs are no longer protected from the greedy reach of the sea.

Attending the California Coastal Commission hearing last week it was obvious that the movers and shakers in Oceanside have little regard for the environment and those living to the south. After the Oceanside tourism troops were done pleading their case for permission to pave 8 acres of sand, a couple from Solana Beach were asking to fill a sea cave in the bluff beneath their home. When they bought their home thirty years ago there was a beach below the bluff, now they are begging for concrete. What is wrong with this picture?

It should be noted that commercial interests are at the heart of this problem. Oceanside Harbor was constructed between 1961 and 1963 just north of the San Luis Rey River, to generate revenue. Jetties were required to protect this man-made hole from filling in with sand. These jetties have been very effective in stopping the longshore transport of beach sediments to the coastline south of Oceanside.

When the Encinas power plant was developed it too required jetties, as did the more recent Batisquitos Lagoon mitigation/restoration project. Add to these sediment impediments, the inland damming of the San Luis Rey River and the Lake Hodges dam on Santa Ysabel creek. Interstate 5 and Highway 101 serve the same purpose by choking the sedimentary cycle of every creek in the region. Buena Vista, Agua Hedionda, Batisquitos, and San Elijo lagoons were all created by the placement of transportation infrastructure across wetlands.

Where these structures have served human needs, they have also ignored environmental realities. Now a majority of the Oceanside City Council has the gall to declare their unnaturally healthy beach "under utilized," and are calling for it to be developed and paved. The only reason Oceanside has sand enough to pave, is because it is not sitting on beaches to the south.

As everybody knows, beaches in North County are now having to be artificially maintained. And that even this expensive effort has not prevented homes from sliding into the Pacific. Beach replenishment efforts are temporary at best, and a constant drain on the local economy. Not to mention the environmental costs not yet acknowledged. Got sand?

Instead of adding more man-made structures to the problem, homeowners in Solana Beach and Encinitas should be advocating for the removal of the jetties to the North. They should also be lobbying Sacramento to place the transportation arteries that cross coastal lagoons/estuaries on bridges, and allow for the restoration of geological processes that put sand on the beach naturally.

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