Encinitas considering wooden staircase for Beacon's Beach

Encinitas officials aren't giving up on reworking public access down the landslide-prone cliff to Beacon's Beach in Leucadia.

During an informal open house on Nov. 7, the city will unveil its latest proposal — a wooden staircase running from the top of the bluff down to the beach.

"We're calling it an open house where people can come at any time between 6 and 8 ... no formal presentations will be given," said city Development Services Department Director Brenda Wisneski.

The new proposal could go to the city Planning Commission for review in December or early next year, she added.

The proposal, which is now being assembled, will be a combination of two wooden staircase design alternatives that were displayed during a city-sponsored workshop with the Leucadia community last month, Wisneski said.

People liked the "top of one and the bottom of the second, so we're kind of mixing the two," she said.

She added that people appeared to like the top part of Alternative B because it had fewer switchbacks, but they liked the bottom of Alternative A because it continued all the way to the beach rather than depending on cement steps set into the slope for its final stretch.

Alternatives A and B, and the soon-to-come combination, are the city's replacement for the earlier, much-hated proposal to build a concrete staircase to the beach. Opponents said that design looked like a "Las Vegas-style skywalk" or a freeway onramp. After hours of public testimony dominated by project opponents, the city's Planning Commission directed city staffers last summer to go back to the drawing boards.

Peter Brately, a Leucadia resident who is part of the informal Save Beacon's group that spoke out against the concrete proposal, said Wednesday that the new proposals aren't an improvement. They're just one more sign that the city isn't being responsive to residents' wishes.

Many people who regularly visit Beacon's Beach want the city to focus on preserving the existing, hugely popular dirt pathway that snakes its way down the cliff to the beach and has been in use for decades, he said. They don't want a multimillion-dollar staircase, regardless of whether it's made of concrete or wood, because that doesn't fit with the area's character, he said.

Calling the rustic pathway and the beach below an "amazing, natural spot," Brately said residents understand that their beloved pathway needs to be redesigned a bit for safety reasons, but "we'd like to see the city fully exhaust all options to keep the spirit of it as it is," instead of pushing forward with the staircase plans.

"We're being told there's no way to do it (because of fears of a landslide) ... and the trail's been there since 1960," he said.

Preserving public access to Beacon's Beach has been a battleground for more than a decade. City leaders have been caught between the residents' desires to keep the dirt pathway down the cliff and the state Coastal Commission's prohibitions against seawalls or "armoring" the cliff with concrete substances, which would prevent natural coastal erosion activity.

Over the years, the city has put forward various proposals, and had them rejected by the state and opposed by the Surfrider Foundation advocacy group. Prior to the staircase options, the city proposed adding an "erodible" buttress of sand and concrete at the base of the bluff and rebuilding the bluff face behind the erodible barricade -- a proposal that both state and Surfrider officials opposed.

One key element of all the new staircase designs is that the stairs would be supported by pillars and would appear to almost "float" above the landscape, so that cliff erosion could continue unhindered.

Plans call for the staircase to be placed just south of the existing dirt pathway and city officials say they plan to leave the pathway intact and add landscaping to the area. Opponents argue that once the stairs are in place, the city will abandon what little pathway maintenance it now does, and the path will eventually vanish.

The event is set for 6 to 8 p.m. at City Hall, 505 S. Vulcan Ave.

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