Relative of beach landslide victims urges Encinitas to improve beach safety

Flowers are left for victims of the bluff collapse in Encinitas.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Coastal communities need to do much more to protect beachgoers in areas with landslide-prone coastal bluffs, a man who lost three relatives in a recent beach cliff collapse told the Encinitas City Council on Wednesday night, Aug. 21.

“I do not want what happened to my beautiful family to ever happen again,” said Pat Davis, an Encinitas pediatric dentist who lost his wife, daughter and his wife’s sister in the Aug. 2 beach bluff collapse at Leucadia’s Grandview Beach.

The three women — Julie Davis, Anne Clave and Elizabeth Cox — were attending a large family gathering on a Friday afternoon, Aug, 2, at the beach when a huge chunk of the sandy bluff above the women fell onto the beach and killed them. Moments before the landslide, the family’s many grandchildren were gathered around a cooler just behind the three women’s chairs, and if the children had stayed there a few minutes longer, they too would have died, Davis said.

“Healing, as you all know, will take time,” Davis told the council, adding that he’s been told that the best way to heal is to find a sense of purpose.

For him, that new sense of purpose will be advocating for beach safety projects. Davis said he wants Encinitas and other coastal cities to install additional concrete walls against the cliffs to to reinforce them. He also will advocate for more beach sand replenishment projects to protect the base of the cliffs, and even could support “making certain beaches off limits,” if necessary.

“I am not an alarmist, I am a realist and we do not have to accept a tragedy if it is preventable,” he told the council.

Davis wasn’t the only one advocating more bluff protection measures on Wednesday night, Aug. 21. Dean Goetz, a personal injury attorney with an office in Solana Beach, told the council that it was time for the city to “do something out of the box” and protect beach-goers before more deaths happen.

The region’s beach bluff cliffs have a long history of deadly landslide incidents, he noted.

San Diego County’s most recent fatal bluff collapse occurred in 2008 when a tourist from Nevada was killed while visiting Torrey Pines State Beach. Two other men were killed in 1995 in another landslide at that same beach.

In 2000, Encinitas resident Rebecca Kowalczyk was killed in a beach cliff collapse near the same area where Davis’ relatives died.

Goetz said that at the very least he wants the city to install concrete seawalls against the cliffs in all of the areas where there are beach staircases and those walls should be at least 100 feet long on each side of the staircases.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear told the two men that the city will be doing everything it can to improve beach conditions. “This is something that is a top priority for us,” she said, mentioning that she will be touring the city’s beaches with representatives for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week to assess the cliff areas.

The city also has produced an educational flyer about beach cliff hazards, she added.

--- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune