Del Mar declines to seek Coastal Commission certification for sea level rise plan

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The Del Mar City Council decided to withdraw its sea level rise adaptation plan from a June 10 hearing in front of the California Coastal Commission, which leaves the plan uncertified after years of discussions between the two sides.

The city’s plan, adopted in 2018, will remain in effect without Coastal Commission certification, but that could create complications in new public and private development. The commission oversees development throughout the state’s coastal zone, which includes the entire city of Del Mar. Sand replenishment and other efforts to counter the rising sea in Del Mar will continue.

The two sides have been divided over whether Del Mar’s plan should include “managed retreat,” which involves moving property inland and conceding ground to the rising sea. The Coastal Commission also added 22 new suggested modifications, including updates to the Floodplain Overlay Zone map, more details about calculating setbacks for development on the bluffs, and a fee program to fund sea level rise adaptation plans.

“Every time they have sent comments to the city, their changes reintroduce managed retreat for private property, which would irreversibly harm Del Mar, our beaches, our many beach visitors each year, and especially the 700-plus homes in the beach community,” Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland said during the council’s June 7 meeting.

Council members knew that the commission was expected to reject the Local Coastal Program Amendment (LCPA) that would have certified the city’s plan, based on a recommendation from the commission’s staff. So by a 4-1 vote, the council decided to take it off the table.

According to city planners, the lack of certification could complicate the development review process for a proposal to add affordable housing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Del Mar’s ability to get state grants for adaptation projects could also be jeopardized.

Echoing the comments of several residents who spoke during public comment, City Councilman Dave Druker said that the Coastal Commission should recognize the “uniqueness of Del Mar.”

“They are trying to create a template for the state of California and they’re trying to figure out how to get Del Mar’s LCPA and our sea level rise adaptation plan to conform to what they see as all of California should do,” Druker said.

A report by Karl Schwing, a Coastal Commission deputy director who oversees San Diego, and other staffers said that “the proposed amendment does not include the level of detail necessary to address the future impacts of (sea level rise) – and future extreme events.”

They noted that Del Mar’s plan has various metrics, such as beach width and bluff erosion, for determining whether more action needs to be taken for sea level rise.

However, their report added, “The Adaptation Plan does not specify what actions would be taken after those thresholds are crossed, but rather states that the City prefers to maintain a flexible approach to future adaptation.”

Del Mar Deputy Mayor Dwight Worden was the only vote against withdrawing the LCPA. He said he did not agree with all of the Coastal Commission’s suggested modifications, but added that the two sides should negotiate.

“Del Mar always has the final card to play,” Worden said. “The Coastal Act is absolutely clear, the Coastal Commission can suggest changes to our plan, but they cannot dictate them. Ultimately we have the ability to accept them or reject them.”