Del Mar awaits state, federal coastal actions

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

Looming decisions by state and federal agencies involving Del Mar prompted lengthy discussions but no actions by the City Council on Monday night, July 15.

The California Coastal Commission is processing an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Plan that will incorporate the city’s approach to the projected rising sea level, which scientists say is caused by global warming.

Also, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has published proposed updated flood maps for the San Diego County coastline, including Del Mar.

Coastal Commission administrators are expected in the ensuing weeks to release their recommended changes to the city’s Local Coastal Plan.

The state agency requires all jurisdictions within shoreline areas to have plans showing how they will accommodate growth while protecting the public’s state-mandated rights to access and enjoy the coast.

Council members are scheduled to review the commission staff’s recommendations in their Oct. 7 meeting, followed by the commission’s consideration for approval in mid-October.

Ongoing dialogue between the city and commission administrators has provoked fears among beach-area homeowners that the state body could impose onerous requirements in response to sea-level rise.

Of major concern is that the city adopted a sea-level rise adaptation plan that outlines various measures to cope with the rising sea. The plan, however, rejects the concept of “managed retreat,” in which property owners would have to relocate their homes and buildings to higher ground to avoid flooding.

City officials determined managed retreat is impractical for Del Mar, the county’s smallest city. The city analysis concluded there would be nowhere for buildings to be relocated and it would destroy property values in the millions and even tens of millions of dollars. The median home value in Del Mar is about $2.5 million, according to online sources, but beach front homes run much higher.

In contrast, Del Mar’s adaptation plan calls for measures such as sand replenishment and management, flood control measures such as dredging, and ongoing monitoring and analysis of the effects of the rising sea level.

A number of residents filed letters with the city before Monday’s meeting and many in attendance wore stickers with red “say no” bars over the term “trigger points.”

The sticker and comments were intended to express opposition to any commission attempt to establish thresholds that, when reached, would trigger required “managed retreat” responses by the city.

Also, city officials oppose the commission’s definition of existing development as structures that were built in the coastal zone before the commission’s establishment in 1977.

“Please listen to Del Mar residents. Say no to trigger points, say no to new definitions of existing development and say no to the California Coastal Commission,” urged Jerry Jacobs, president of the Del Mar Beach Preservation Coalition.

Council members Terry Gaasterland and Dwight Worden, who participated in the meeting via speaker from Maryland, assured residents that the council has no intention on giving in on the adaptation plan.

“I support our plan, I voted for our plan, I think it’s a good plan and I’m ready to stand by it,” Worden said.

He added, “I want to underline there’s a point of very good news. So far, the Coastal staff has accepted our position in rejecting managed retreat That’s huge. ... That’s real serious progress, in my opinion.”

Meanwhile, FEMA released its first revamped maps of flood plain levels in three decades. The agency is taking comments on the maps in anticipation of making them official Dec. 20.

The maps, which are created primarily for flood insurance purposes, are not related to the city’s plan for sea-level rise and do not take into account that phenomenon.

For Del Mar, however, the maps expand the city’s flood-risk areas, and place the base flood elevation in a 100-year-flood at 16 feet above sea level, about six-feet higher than it was on the previous map. FEMA officials said the changes resulting from the remapping are due in part to technology that wasn’t available in the 1980s.

A 100-year-flood is an event that is predicted to happen only once in the span of a century, though when such events occur in relation to each other is unpredictable.

Several residents expressed alarm that they would have to increase the height of their sea walls based on the assessment.

Worden said that the FEMA maps don’t address sea wall specifications, but the city’s sea-level rise adaptation plan lists raising walls as one of the measures that could be taken to protect beach properties.