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Sand and Sensibility: The saga continues

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 27, 2001


Earth itself hovers loose in the air. — Eskimo saying

Standing on the beach in Leucadia, watching three houses hang precariously on the edge of a bluff, all I could do was marvel at the stupidity of western culture. Beneath these homes crews busied themselves delaying the inevitable with backhoe and bulldozer. Coastal fortification which equates cement with conservation, masks the problem instead of fixing it.

Prompting my trip to the beach was the often asked question, "What the hell is going on at Beacons?" After stating the obvious, "They're uh, building sea walls." Those asking the question usually respond "I know that, have you seen it lately?" Sensing a column in the making, a little sand time was in order.

More than a beach, Beacons is a cultural landmark. Tied to surf, not sand, anything that might limit access is viewed with outright suspicion. Unless of course you happen to be one of the homeowners tempting fate one high tide at a time. Protecting the few over the rights of the many makes sense only in America. Armoring the coast is little more than denial masquerading as property rights.

When the sand conversation veers away from the selfishness of property rights, it immediately focuses on tourism and safety. Let's face it, wide sandy beaches look better on postcards than do thin strips of cobbles. It is also important to note, people won't leave Kansas to risk having a house fall on them while sunbathing. They know better.

For those of you who have not experienced Beacons in a while, I suggest you do so soon. Currently this popular Leucadia surf spot is a comprehensive study of human intervention. With the San Diego Association of Governments sand replenishment efforts taking place just North of Beacons, and a massive sea wall construction project progressing to the south, this beach is a glimpse of the future.

Speaking of sand replenishment, Beacons is certainly wider than it was before sand was dredged from the ocean floor at great expense. If wider beaches, for the short term, are the only barometer of success, than it is safe to say Encinitas has itself a winner. Now if we throw in variables such as retention, environmental considerations, and user safety, the jury is still out.

One thing I noticed on my little foray to the beach was the dredged sand was as soft as sand paper. The natural occurring sand was powdery in comparison. Another element that made walking on the new sand difficult was broken shells jutting from the sandpaper. One can imagine the injuries parents will have to deal with this summer. A little girl name Melinda simply said "There are too many rocks."

The adults I spoke to were equally revealing. The first person I spoke to was a visitor from Indio who approached me as I was watching the sea wall construction. His question actually made me laugh. He wanted to know how many homes where being built. I told him all the work was being done to save three doomed homes. He had nothing to say to that.

The locals I spoke to knew exactly what was going on, and were not happy. Comments included dredging has changed the bottom, resulting in a stronger rip current. One parent commented on how his daughter was being scraped up by the waves breaking against the new beach, instead of rolling in. Some young surfers complained about how the rip tide is pushing them to the south, and creating crowded conditions.

A concern of residents living nearby is more sand on the beach equates to more beachgoers. Coastal residents consider this a problem because SANDAG and the City of Encinitas have not provided more parking for the inland visitors wishing to beat the heat at the "new and improved" Beacons. More sand and more beachgoers also equates with more traffic, more pollution, and and increased need for city services.

It's a tragedy quality of life is now something to be ruthlessly defended where it was once effortlessly enjoyed. Sea walls and dredged sand in no way address the real problem of accelerated beach erosion. We all know coastal development is the cause of our disappearing coastline, and will continue to be so until the trend is reversed.

Like the houses hanging precariously over the edge of a crumbling bluff, Southern California's environment is equally imperiled. Leaving the beach I noticed a man performing Tai Chi in front of a idling bulldozer, at which point I laughed, and wish El Nino a speedy return.

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