Family of 3 women killed in Encinitas bluff collapse sues city, state

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ENCINITAS (CNS) – The family of three women killed last summer when a multi-ton section of sandstone collapsed onto them at Grandview Surf Beach have a filed a lawsuit against the city of Encinitas, the state of California, and a local homeowners’ association, while also calling Wednesday on legislators to support a bill aimed at preventing future coastal bluff collapses.

Family members of Julie Davis, 65; her 35-year-old daughter, Anne Clave; both of Encinitas, and Davis’ 62-year-old sister, Elizabeth Charles of San Francisco, said little has been done to improve conditions or beachgoer safety more than a year after their loved ones were killed.

Moreover, during Wednesday’s news conference announcing the lawsuit, attorneys alleged that the city knew of the dangers regarding the cliff’s instability for decades, but did not take the necessary measures to prevent the erosion that contributed to the fatal bluff collapse on Aug. 2, 2019, nor do enough to warn beachgoers of the hazards.

Encinitas officials did not immediately return a request for comment.

The three victims and other family members gathered at the beach for a celebratory occasion, as Charles had recently recovered from breast cancer. A portion of the cliff collapsed on top of them just before 3 p.m., “crushing the decedents in front of their loved ones and family members,” according to the complaint filed Tuesday alleging wrongful death and negligence.

Attorneys say several factors contributed to hazardous groundwater seepage in the area, including increased urban development, poor storm drain and irrigation management, and the continued growth of non-native plants along the bluff.

Deborah Chang, one of the attorneys representing the family, said those conditions made the bluff a “ticking time bomb” for a collapse like the one that killed the three women.

“It wasn’t a question of if something was going to happen, but when,” Chang said.

Development in the area diverted groundwater into other areas of the bluff, weakening its stability, according to the lawsuit.

An irrigation system that was to be removed remains in place Wednesday, while non-native plants allowed to flourish in the area have accelerated the erosion and instability of the cliffs, the complaint states.

Additionally, the complaint alleges that a defective drainage system used by the Leucadia-Seabluffe Village Community Association and Seabreeze Management Company has contributed to the accumulation of water atop the cliffs.

Bibi Fell, another of the family’s attorneys, said, “This was not an unknown, natural occurrence. It was decades in the making.”

Chang said that in addition to compensatory damages, they are hoping the spotlight brought onto the issue by the lawsuit will effectuate some kind of change to prevent further tragedies.

The family also threw their support behind SB 1090, introduced earlier this year by Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, which would obligate public agencies and private owners of seafront property in San Diego and Orange counties to mitigate coastal erosion.

The women’s family members said safety measures that could have prevented last year’s fatal collapse have still not been enacted, yet people continue to visit Grandview Surf Beach on a daily basis.

Curtis Clave, Anne Clave’s husband, said despite ongoing bluff collapses in the area, he continues to see people at the beach, including “dozens of families” resting up against the bluffs on Tuesday.

“We’re standing here today calling on local and state officials to finally stand up and do something. This issue needs to be addressed immediately. These bluffs continue to fall and we can’t stand to see another family go through what we did, and are still and will always be going through,” Clave said.

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