Stage is set for showdown over sea-level rise in Del Mar


Over the objections of environmentalists and state planners, the Del Mar Planning Commission this week signed off on a package of strategies for adapting to sea-level rise that does not include “managed retreat” as an option.

The 4-1 decision on Feb. 13 sets the stage for a city council hearing on March 19. From there, the adaptation plan will go to the California Coastal Commission for final approval.

Last month, Del Mar’s Sea-Level Rise Stakeholder-Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) wrapped up 30 months of work that arrived at the 70-page plan for how Del Mar should respond to the pressures expected to come with rising seas, increasingly frequent flooding and coastal erosion.

Several STAC members spoke at the planning commission’s hearing, all of them depicting managed retreat as premature and ill-suited to Del Mar’s topology. A cost-benefit study expects the highest return on investment to come from programs to replenish and retain beach sand. The study also says that the only strategy more expensive than managed retreat would be to do nothing at all.

Nonetheless, the California Coastal Commission warned Del Mar in a Feb. 5 letter that removing retreat “creates significant deficiencies” in the adaptation plan, in large part because the plan is unclear as to how the sand-management options would achieve the city’s goals of a “walkable beach.”

After extensive revisions over the past six months, the adaptation plan instead prioritizes strategies of sand replenishment and sand retention. With those options available, the planning commission deemed managed retreat to be premature and ill-defined.

“I find the idea that a homeowner cannot protect their property fundamentally inappropriate,” said Commissioner Nathan McCay, drawing a round of applause.

Rather than sea-level rise, Planning Commission Chairman Ted Bakker argued that Del Mar’s narrowing beaches are the result from man-made action such as the Oceanside jetty and the dam at Lake Hodges.

“I just don’t see managed retreat as alternative at this time at all, and I don’t think it should be discussed at all,” he said, before referring to the “sand engine” project in the Netherlands, which like Del Mar, has areas that are below sea level.

“I think there’s technology out there that’s going to become available to us that’s going to solve these problems,” he said.