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Del Mar architect’s ‘dream house’ not tied to landslide

After about five decades designing other people’s buildings, Del Mar architect Dean Meredith decided it was time to create his own home for himself and his wife, Monica.

They had the good fortune to find a ridgeline property on Seaview Avenue where they are constructing a 4,200-square-foot residence with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and San Dieguito River Valley.

“This is the chance of a lifetime,” Dean Meredith said.

Less than two months remained before the expected completion of the home when the unexpected happened.

A section of the bluff underneath Seaview collapsed April 21, blocking the northbound roadway and sidewalk of Jimmy Durante Boulevard to traffic.

Technically, the landslide occurred underneath the property next door to the lofty perch on which the Meredith home sits.

Yet, the visual connection between the construction site, the scarred cliff face and the tons of fallen dirt below inevitably led to questions.

A couple of television news teams interviewed longtime SDSU geology professor and current Professor Emeritus Patrick Abbott at the site.

Abbott said recent heavy rains and irrigation runoff led to the slide, while conjecturing that the home-building project might have contributed.

That last bit of speculation was wrong, Abbott admitted before the Del Mar City Council on May 6, while delivering a public apology.

Expert analyses by professionals showed the construction had nothing to do with the collapse.

Bluff photo
The face of the bluff that collapsed April 21 in Del Mar is seen looking south from a location near the coastal railroad tracks. Michael J. Williams

Nonetheless, the association of the slide with the Meredith project produced an onslaught of malevolent commentary.

The negative attention undoubtedly was exacerbated by the architect’s prominence in what is San Diego County’s smallest city, and one of its most affluent.

“There was this incredibly horrible firestorm on social media,” Monica Meredith said.

Dean Meredith said the project and its alleged connection to the slope collapse and road closure became the talk of the town.

“All of a sudden, we were the bad guys. ... When something like this gets out, it’s really difficult to dig out of,” he said.

Abbott’s apology as well as supportive statements by city officials that aired on Del Mar’s cable TV channel from the City Council’s May 6 meeting have helped quell the controversy, the Merediths said.

“The facts are out,” said Dean Meredith. “It’s not fake news anymore.”

Les Reed, who heads Geotechnical Exploration Inc., did the geological analyses supporting the Meredith project, which received all required approvals and permits from local government agencies.

“The city of Del Mar blessed everything,” Monica Meredith said. “I think the most important thing is our house is on solid ground.”

The main structure is supported by a basement with a foundation installed on solid bedrock and there is no threat of causing slides, Reed said.

The only aspect of the structure built on a slope is a deck supported by caissons, he said.

“The whole intention of the caisson was to minimally impact the soil,” Dean Meredith said.

Reed said the caissons are round shafts dug vertically to get down to bedrock, buttressed by a steel cage of vertical bars with horizontal straps.

“That’s become a really routine thing on hillside properties,” Reed said. “It’s real common now to build caissons to support (decks). It’s less destructive.”

Dean Meredith put his experience and know-how into the design of the house. That knowledge stems from a career that began with his fascination with structural design while growing up in Ocean Beach in San Diego and attending Point Loma High School.

He described the two-story residence’s style as a “warm” mix of Contemporary and Craftsman.

Monica Meredith said the couple is not building the house for profit.

“This is our dream home,” she said. “We don’t plan to sell it. Our plan is for our children to inherit it.”

She is hoping the house will be completed and ready to occupy in June.

Meanwhile, a city-hired contractor is clearing Jimmy Durante, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, so it can be reopened by Memorial Day if possible.

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