ENCINITAS — The city of Encinitas will continue to monitor landslide activity at Beacon’s Beach jointly with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography following a minor bluff failure in May at the popular Leucadia beach.
The Encinitas Planning Commission (absent Commissioner Steve Dalton) on June 29 unanimously approved Scripps’ request to install temporary and permanent monitoring equipment at Beacon’s to measure seismic activity along the bluffs and in the landslide area.
The equipment includes electrical conduits and sensors located in trenches within the parking lot and instrumentation mast; deep/shallow borehole sensors in the parking lot and along the bluff; shallow monitoring points over the cliff and along the beach trail.
Three spaces within the parking lot will be used for staging of equipment to conduct shallow trenching, excavations and borehole drilling for the proposed project.
“I don’t think this city can afford to skip monitoring for safety in this case,” said Commissioner Susan Sherod, noting the fatal collapse at Leucadia’s Grandview Beach in 2019. “Now, fortunately, no life was lost at Beacon’s, but we can’t predict if the earth moves or not unless we monitor.”
City engineers began analyzing the landslide area alongside Scripps’ seismic monitoring equipment on May 2, the day of the collapse, a move still questioned by residents.
City staff is currently pursuing an Emergency Coastal Development Permit through the California Coastal Commission for the temporary closure of the parking lot and public access trail, and the installation of temporary inclinometer monitoring devices (sensor measuring slope displacements) needed to document the current bluff activity.
“The emergency work needed to be out there to ensure we may maintain public access as soon as possible,” Planning Manager Anna Colamussi told commissioners of the May incident.
Scripps responded quickly thanks to an ongoing coastal monitoring grant approved and funded through Assembly Bill 66 in 2021.
Per AB 66, Scripps Institution of Oceanography is permitted to research cliff landslides and erosion from Black’s Beach to Carlsbad until 2025. (A report with legislative recommendations and an early warning system is expected by March 15 of the same year.)
“I want my trail back; I want Beacon’s back,” said Commissioner Robert Prendergast at the June 29 special meeting, adding he was “overjoyed that Scripps is part of this process.”
Members of the public questioned the institute’s permissibility to take on the work, as well as the overall legality of closing a public access point in the coastal zones.
Matthew Gordon, a resident on the south end of Beacon’s Beach, called on the commission to review the California Coastal Act and coastal development permit. Gordon believes that already-completed work should be treated as a liability under the law.
“There can be no Planning Commission approval for Scripps’ [Coastal Development Permit] because the work is completed and the monitoring started weeks ago,” Gordon said, calling on members to immediately halt monitoring work related to Beacon’s Beach. “No one knows if that work was done properly or according to the plans and what was done to the bluffs.”
In a five-page letter to the California Coastal Commission and shared with the Planning Commission, Chandra Slaven, a planning specialist and coastal land-use consultant, claimed the city released bogus public notices that the landslide was hazardous and allowed un-permitted work on the bluff.
Slaven believes the landslide monitoring activities and public closures of the state beach violate the state Constitution and the Coastal Act. She claims the city missed its deadline to file for adequate permitting and must move to address a long-term solution to preserving public access at Beacon’s Beach or Leucadia State Beach.
“We cannot continue to keep revisiting this issue every year,” Slaven wrote. “The time is now for a long-term planned solution that includes all members of the public who frequent Beacon’s Beach.”