U.S. Rep. Mike Levin sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers July 31 requesting up to $700,000 for the Solana Beach-Encinitas Coastal Shore Protection Project for bluff stabilization efforts. Three days later, three women were killed in Encinitas when a portion of the bluff collapsed.
“What I’ve learned is that folks at the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Budget and Management thought that what we were asking for was sand for tourism or recreation,” said Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano), addressing his constituents at a town hall in Del Mar on Aug. 22 while Congress is on recess. “And I had a pretty firm conversation with the head of the Army Corps of Engineers after the tragedy in Encinitas. I told them look, this is not about tourism or recreation, this is about basic safety.”
The miscommunication didn’t cause the tragedy in Encinitas, but underscores the greater sense of urgency the congressman wants the federal government to have for the project.
Levin’s spokesman, Eric Mee, said the congressman was actually referring to a miscommunication about the purpose of the funding that occurred in prior years, not in relation to the July 31 letter. He did not respond to a followup question about who the parties involved were, since it would have predated Levin’s time in office. The Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
Local environmental concerns involving the bluffs, ending offshore drilling off the California coastline and renewable energy were among the wide array of issues his constituents brought up at the town hall, which the congressman holds every month at different locations throughout his district.
Levin mentioned a followup letter he wrote last week regarding federal funding for bluff stabilization “to ensure no further lives are needlessly lost.” The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and addressed to Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Jean Smith, a 25-year Solana Beach resident, asked about possible federal funding for the train tracks running along the top of the bluffs which have also been a cause of concern. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has been spending money on stabilization efforts, but leaders throughout the county have been discussing a long-term solution of creating a tunnel to bring the tracks inland.
“I will leave it to SANDAG to work with the mayors, and here’s where we’ll come in,” Levin said. “Whatever the plan is that is locally derived, that’s where the federal government will come in and match as much money as we can.”
Del Mar City Councilman Dwight Worden, who was in attendance, said an inland tunnel would help the county avoid “a lot of expensive band-aids” keeping the current bluff-top tracks in place.
Levin’s constituents, who came from Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar, asked about some of the high-profile national issues facing the congressman, including his support for an impeachment inquiry and gun violence prevention efforts in Congress.
Multiple times throughout the two-and-a-half hour event, Levin lamented the “legislative graveyard” in the U.S. Senate, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has frustrated the Democratic-led House by refusing to bring their bills to the Senate floor.
One of his bills, the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, which Levin introduced with Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), has drawn strong bipartisan support, with 37 co-sponsors from both parties. The bill would help accelerate wind, solar and geothermal energy on public land.
“It is evidence that we actually can work together and get something done,” he said.