Local lawmaker urges action on potentially deadly bluff collapses

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ENCINITAS, Calif. (CNS) – A state lawmaker representing North County is calling for urgent action on coastal bluff collapses, a public hazard tragically exemplified by a cliff failure that killed three family members in Encinitas last summer.

Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, introduced the bill Tuesday. The legislation would obligate public agencies and private owners of seafront property in San Diego and Orange Counties to mitigate coastal erosion.

The added requirements mandated by Senate Bill 1090 “would help prevent further tragedies on public beaches” such as the triple-fatality bluff collapse that occurred at Grandview Surf Beach in the Leucadia neighborhood on Aug. 2.

Shortly before 3 p.m. that day, a roughly 25- by 30-foot section of sea cliff near Neptune Avenue gave way, collapsing onto Julie Davis, 65, her 35- year-old daughter, Anne Clave, and Davis’ 62-year-old sister, Elizabeth Cox. The latter victim, a San Francisco resident, died at the scene, and the other two, both Encinitas residents, succumbed to their injuries at hospitals.

The women, who had gathered at the beach near Batiquitos Lagoon to celebrate Elizabeth Cox’s successful fight against breast cancer, were buried under tons of dirt and rock.

The tragedy happened nine months ago, but some Encinitas homeowners complain that nothing has been done to make beaches below the bluffs safer.

“What we need is a whole lot more sand,” said one resident, who didn’t care to share his name.  He said he’s taken ideas to the California Coastal Commission on a number of occasions, but they go nowhere fast.

“The process is impossible,” he said. “There’s way too much red tape.”

“There could have been more fatalities had friends and other family members present at the celebration not been a few feet away from the impact area at the time of the collapse,” Bates wrote in an opinion piece published this week by the Coast News.

Bates told FOX 5 Tuesday that the Coastal Commission takes too long to reach a decision. That’s why she is proposing legislation in Sacramento aimed to give homeowners and local governments more of a say.

Among the list of actions the bill proposes to help prevent erosion are drainage remedies, reinforcement structures and sea walls.

“We’re certainly open to listening to experts on how to fix this one and how to fix that one,” said Bates. “There will be different methods for each one of the problem areas.”

Three months after the three women’s deaths, a major cliff failure in Del Mar “put the entire coastal rail line in jeopardy and will now cost $100 million to repair,” the senator noted.

“Concerns over more bluff collapses have become especially acute in San Diego and Orange Counties,” Bates stated. “Millions of people visit our beaches each year but are forced to sit at the base of at-risk bluffs due to the lack of sand replenishment and minimal beach area during mid (level) to high tides.”

Though the California Coastal Act of 1976 requires construction that alters natural shoreline processes to be permitted by the California Coastal Commission or a local government with an approved local coastal program, the process “does not prioritize erosion mitigation,” according to Bates, who represents the 36th Senate District.

“Doing nothing to prevent additional bluff collapses is not acceptable,” she asserted.

SB 1090 would require the Coastal Commission to review and approve a public agency’s or homeowner’s application for erosion-mitigation efforts in regard to planting, drainage and seawall or other reinforcing structures. Approved applicants also would have to pay for the costs of sand replenishment and permit processing.

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