Del Mar has decided to include “managed retreat” as a last-resort option for dealing with sea-level rise, despite widespread objections from homeowners in the tony, seaside enclave.
The California Coastal Commission, in two letters to the city, has emphasized that managed retreat must be “one of the tools in the toolbox,” city officials said at a Monday night council meeting.
Without it, the city would lose control to the state over development of everything from seawalls to shopping centers.
Managed retreat is a term that describes planning for ways to remove homes, roads, public buildings and other structures from the path of the rising sea. In some cases, it could involve the government buying the properties, or assisting in the sales, and helping the residents find new places to live.
The idea is especially controversial in Del Mar, where hundreds of multimillion-dollar homes are built near sea level on the northern end of town near the beach and the San Dieguito River. Del Mar residents and city officials say they intend to cope with sea-level rise using a combination of beach replenishment, sand retention and flood management projects.
Residents, backed by the city’s Sea-level Rise Stakeholder Technical Advisory Committee and the Planning Commission, had said that under no circumstances should managed retreat be considered for Del Mar.
However, the City Council voted Monday to include the idea as an option, and to postpone approval of the adaptation plan until the council’s May 21 meeting to iron out the details.
Residents fear their property values will plummet if word gets out that the city is considering managed retreat.
“Uttering these words alone … may have pulled the emergency brake on sales,” real estate agent Csilla Crouch said Monday.
Six beachfront homes are for sale in Del Mar, she said, but in the past 15 months, only one has sold, though it went for $18 million.
“The conversations have done damage enough,” Crouch said. “Please delete this concept entirely.”
The Coastal Commission insists that managed retreat be addressed in the city’s mandatory sea-level rise adaptation plan, said Mayor Dwight Worden, who’s also been the Del Mar city attorney and is familiar with the legal side of Coastal Commission issues.
“We must include this option,” he said, even if it’s unlikely to ever happen. “We specifically said it’s infeasible. Planned retreat is going to be very difficult and complex if we ever need to implement it. The city has no confidence in it based on various uncertainties.”
Jon Corn, an attorney for a property owners group called the Beach Preservation Coalition, said the idea of managed retreat is based on the fallacy that “if you let nature take its course, you’ll end up with a more usable or walkable beach.”
Much of the North County coast consists of steep bluffs, and “those bluffs will never reach a safe angle of repose,” Corn said. “We will continue to get failures that can, and have, killed people.”
Also, the expense of relocating some public facilities, such as the bluff-top railroad tracks in Del Mar, are likely to be prohibitively expensive.
“The answer is sand replenishment and sand retention,” Corn said. “Managed retreat is all downside with no upside. It is an anxiety-driven thing that does nobody any good.”
The city’s sea-level rise committee has been working for three years on the proposed adaptation plan which, when approved by the city and the Coastal Commission, would become an amendment to Del Mar’s Local Coastal Program. The adaptation is intended to protect the city’s beaches, bluffs and coastal resources for generations.
The consensus of scientific opinion is that sea level will continue to rise, and that storms will continue to increase in frequency and intensity, Del Mar Principal Planner Amanda Lee said Monday.
Del Mar can expect continued narrowing of the public beach, erosion of coastal bluffs, increased flooding and storm damage, Lee said. Adaptation planning is complex, strategies are untested, all options carry extensive financial environmental costs, and no funding has been identified.
“We are looking to protect people and property, and to help owners protect their property,” Lee said.
Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said Del Mar needs to get its plan approved to stay in sync with other coastal cities, all of which depend on sand restoration projects.
“The plan we have tonight is the best shot we have at keeping our beaches as long as possible,” Haviland said. “It focuses on the things that we can implement quickly and get started on right away. If at some point in the future, those strategies fail, it doesn’t leave us with no options.”
Carlsbad and Imperial Beach have already adopted their adaptation plans, including the option of managed retreat, and Oceanside and Solana Beach are working on theirs.
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