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Like Sand Through the Hour Glass

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 27, 2000


The way I see it, on January 15, 2000, Rebecca Kowalczyk became an environmental martyr. Far from complicit, Rebecca was not a victim of nature as elected officials would have you believe. She was a human casualty in our war against the Earth's natural processes. Hearing the breaking news on the radio, I left San Diego knowing something more than sand had shifted in Encinitas. The bluff threat was now real.

The helicopters circling overhead and many satellite trucks crowded in front of the beach access, was evidence that Mrs. Kowalczyk's unfortunate end would not go unnoticed. Huddled on the beach with witnesses, rescue personnel, onlookers, all I could think of was how unnatural this natural occurrence was, and how surreal everything felt. As the reporters were asking witnesses how, I already knew why.

Les Bacon, and his son Jeff, of La Costa helped search for Rebecca. Visually shaken, when I asked Les why he thought the bluff collapsed he said "The sand is gone, the damming of rivers. They put in jetties, constant erosion...you can't stop nature." When I relayed this response to a friend, he said "the ocean was going to grab sand one way or another. If there is no beach, then the bluff would have to do."  To a person, this seems to be the opinion of the residents I talked to. More telling, no one seemed surprised.

Being a media junkie, I channel surfed for the next five days, catching all the news broadcasts to see what was being said. And just as I expected, all the talking heads had completely disconnected any human action to the eroding bluffs. Encinitas Mayor Jim Bond was using this tragedy to campaign for State Assembly. Quaking and chirping about how he was in constant contact with Congressman Cunningham, candidate Bond shamelessly worked the media. Hinting at sea walls and artificial reefs, Mr. Bond was quite emphatic about the need to protect tourism.

The amount of denial swirling around the whole bluff issue would be comical if the results weren't so fatal. Any local not running for office knows exactly why the beaches in Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Del Mar are eroding at such an alarming rate. Jetties constructed by the Army Corp. of Engineers, as part of the creation of the Oceanside harbor, coupled with the earthen berms crossing the regions yesteryears, have nearly halted the natural flow of sand to the beaches.

The sand that should be serving as a buffer between the sea and the bluffs is sitting behind man made infrastructure. These structures have nothing to do with biological process and everything to do with accommodating commerce. Again I will repeat that the Oceanside Harbor and the local lagoons are as natural as the freeways bisecting our coastal communities. It is time Encinitas holds the City of Oceanside responsible for undermining property rights and impacting coastal environments. I also believe it is time for the harbor jetties to be removed.

But reality being what it is, Encinitas Mayor James Bond, and the pro-development constituents he reflects, will never waver from the destructive course they have chosen for us all. And never will they offer any alternatives that would threatened TOT taxes in the short run. Damn future generations, we must protect a few business interests in Oceanside. Continuing in this vein, one could say Rebecca died so that someone could sell cheesy T-shirts to tourists.

Converting our communities into tourist traps imprisons us all in an environmental mess of our making. Failing to correct old problems, only compounds the predicament we are in. Placing sand on the beach is the easy way out, and allows policy makers to postpone any real action for yet another year. Restoring the longshore transport is the only sensible reaction to a failed municipal experiment, but since degrading the environment is more profitable than repairing it, business continues as usual.

When the local news coverage addressed the issue of bluff erosion they do so from a business angle. Any mention of environmental concerns was just that, those concerns were barely discussed. In coastal North County commercial interests take precedent, this is clear. The fact that the Oceanside Harbor was allowed to be excavated in the first place speaks to this.

Messing with nature we have set the rules of engagement in a game we can't help but lose. And being the foolish monkeys that we are we have chosen to see the environment as an impediment to progress rather than a nurturing habitat. It is safe to say that continuing to upset the balance which supports life in our coastal region will be the death of us all.

Blessed be Mrs. Kowalczyk.

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