Del Mar to take next step on sea-level rise plan

Del Mar’s task force on sea-level rise is heading into its Jan. 25 meeting intent to put the finishing touches on its package of recommendations that set the stage for how Del Mar will prepare for and respond to the havoc expected to be wrought by eroding bluffs, narrowing beaches and increasingly frequent floods of the San Dieguito River.

The Sea-Level Rise Stakeholder-Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) has spent more than two years researching a wide array of potential impacts and responses to climate change. Its most important product will be the adaptation plan, which has consumed nearly a year of work, including a radical rewrite over the past three months that prioritize private property rights and strategies of sand replenishment and retention.

After hearing testimonies from several of San Diego’s leading coastal attorneys, environmentalists and seawall engineers, committee members slogged through nearly 20 agonizing votes—many of which are essential to the adaptation plan’s tenor—during a marathon session on Dec. 7.

The largest sticking point has been whether the adaptation plan will include mention that STAC deliberately eliminated mention of removal of private property and policies of managed retreat. The issue surfaced last summer as residents of Del Mar’s “beach colony”—several hundred of the city’s priciest homes—bemoaned the plan’s impact on property values in the $1 billion neighborhood. In response, the committee started rewriting the adaptation plan in October, with managed retreat cast aside and strategies for replenishing and retaining beach sand as the top priority.

At STAC’s Dec. 7 meeting, a motion to restore managed retreat as a strategy failed 5-2. A subsequent motion to include a summary of STAC’s deliberations over managed retreat within the adaptation plan also failed to pass, falling 4-4 with chairwoman Terry Gaasterland abstaining. Instead, the committee agreed 7-1 to describe those struggles in a standalone memo.

However, the sentence “At this time, retreat is intentionally not included as an adaptation option for private property” will be included in the adaptation plan’s executive summary, passing on a 5-3 vote. The same three STAC members were on the losing end of a subsequent attempt to remove “At this time” from the sentence.

In an 8-0 vote, STAC agreed that the adaptation plan should emphasize that homeowners will be able to choose what adaptation strategies best suit their properties.

Also at issue was that the Dec. 7 meeting was not broadcast or recorded. Over STAC’s first two years, meetings were not recorded due to lack of interest, but the beach colony uproar prompted the city to broadcast and record STAC’s September and October meetings.

In an unexplained oversight, the city council neglected to set aside funds to broadcast and record the Dec. 7 meeting, arguably the most momentous meeting the committee will have by the time its three years of work are completed.

This week, the city council approved $4,000 to broadcast and record STAC’s next six meetings, which will run through the end of this year. Upcoming meetings are expected to hash out a precise definition of “walkable beach” and to review crucial reports on sediment management and habitat migration.

With final edits ready to go at STAC’s Jan. 25 meeting, the adaptation plan moves on to a Feb. 13 hearing before the city planning commission. From there, the plan heads to the city council for review in preparation for amending it into Del Mar’s Local Coastal Program.

“This is a document that is going to continue to evolve throughout the process,” said Amanda Lee, the city’s senior planner.