Senate leader Atkins secures funding to stabilize crumbling Del Mar cliffs


Efforts to reinforce the crumbling Del Mar cliffs are slated for a major cash infusion.

The money — more than $6.1 million — comes after a punishing winter for the wealthy community’s beachfront bluffs.

Residents and local officials have increasingly expressed concerns about the eroding cliffs, atop which Amtrak and Coaster trains run daily.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, announced at a press event on Friday, June 14, in Del Mar that she secured the funding as part of the state’s budget. The $214.8 billion spending plan was approved by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, June 13, although negotiations are ongoing.

“We’re coming out of a historically wet winter, and all of that rain has increased erosion risk, putting residents and travelers along local roads and rail lines in danger,” she said.

“I’m really excited,” she added, “that we were able to secure more than $6 million this year … as part of the ongoing effort to stabilize the bluffs and ensure that we protect a vital transit corridor for San Diego County.”

The money will help accelerate the San Diego Association of Government’s stabilization program, which includes bracing the bluffs using concrete and steel columns, known as soldier piles, and installing drainage pipes to limit the impacts from urban runoff. The agency aims to spend upwards of $90 million through 2050.

Landslides in the area pose a significant danger to beachgoers and those who ignore warnings not to walk along the cliffs. Parts of the bluffs are made of robust mudstone, but other sections are precarious, such as those filled with loose materials when the railroad was first constructed.

The number and size of bluff collapses in Del Mar was unusually high last winter, with about a half-dozen major failures sending large rocks and debris crashing down to the shoreline.

The bluffs recede at an average rate of about six inches a year; however, this winter researchers estimate the erosion was two to three times that.

“What happened in Del Mar last year was quite spectacular as far as the amount of erosion, and we’re still trying to figure out why,” said Adam Young, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has been tracking cliff erosion in Del Mar and around the state.

The new state funding comes on top of about $3 million that SANDAG had already allocated for projects scheduled to start this fall.

“This money is so critical to make sure the movement of people and goods are happening in a safe manner,” Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of SANDAG, said Friday at the event. “Senator Atkins, you have our back.”

Ikhrata said his agency is also considering spending millions on a project to lower the tracks along the bluffs into a trench in order to protect rail operations.

SANDAG and other agencies have performed a number of bluff stabilization projects and drainage improvements over the last two decades, costing a total of about $5 million.

Atkins also announced on Friday one-time funding of $1.5 million for the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s Oceanography Program, which has funded Scripps research around beach erosion and cliff destabilization.

“As climate change continues to create new challenges for our oceans and our coastal communities, we will need better data to solve these problems,” Atkins said,” and that’s precisely the type of research that Scripps excels at.”

Atkins said she is committed to finding more funding for the bluffs in years to come.
-- Joshua Emerson Smith is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune