By Claire Harlin
The City of Solana Beach has been working for years on plans to fix the large and deteriorating public stairwell leading from the public beach parking lot on South Sierra Avenue to the city’s southernmost beach, located just north of Del Mar Dog Beach. Those efforts were kicked into gear with the city manager’s emergency closure of the steps on Nov. 13 and the City Council’s Nov. 14 approval of $100,000 in reserve funding to complete plans.
City Manager David Ott said he called the emergency closure, which could last up to a year or longer, when an inspection revealed that some of the concrete on the steps, built in the 1970s, had deteriorated to the point that reinforcement bars were being exposed.
“As time goes on more and more of the concrete will sluff off and fall apart,” said city engineer Mo Sammack. “We’ve observed a higher level of deterioration in the last few months.”
Sammack said the city had already installed chains on the broken railings to keep them together, and even the chains had begun to rust. In addition, PVC piping had been installed to replace broken railings in order to keep people from cutting their hands when using the rails.
Signs and caution tape have been installed on the stairway, however, Sammack said locked security fences will soon follow, and lifeguards will be given the keys.
The estimated cost to replace the stairway is between $1.5 and $1.7 million. Possible funding sources include the Beach Investment Group (BIG), which may be able to do private fundraising, as well as beach restoration and sand mitigation fees the city collects from homeowners. The city is also looking at bond opportunities, as well as its 2 percent portion of a tourism tax that’s designated for beach repairs.
Ott said the California Coastal Commission is aware of the public access closure and the commission will have to grant an extension on a Coastal Development Permit the city obtained last year. Ott said he is confident the extension will be granted.
Sammack estimated that the cost of the closure, including signage and fencing, is about $4,000, and the cost to prepare final plans will be $100,000. The city council approved using undesignated reserve funding to cover both costs.
Ott said the stair replacement project will go out to bid in the spring and it may take up to a year to construct.
Jim Jaffee, a beach preservation and access advocate with Surfrider Foundation, said having a fee structure in place would be a good way to ensure financing for maintaining public access, and he urged the council to complete a fee study as soon as possible. He also expressed concern that the stairs will be closed for so long.
“If there’s anything short term we could do, such as … gaining access through the condos for emergencies or emergency exits from the water,” said Jaffee. “In the winter when there’s big surf that’s a spot with some of the most powerful waves in the water, and there should be a way to exit the beach.”