Solana Beach council approves concrete cave infills

By Claire Harlin


In what they cited as a difficult decision, Solana Beach City council members unanimously agreed on Oct. 12 to allow owners of a blufftop residence on Pacific Avenue to fill in five large seacaves on the beach below their home.

The seacaves, which stretch three to 19 feet into the bluff, were originally filled in 1991. The applicant, the Bannasch Family Trust, said direct wave attack has eroded the bluff further, endangering both the home and beachgoers who might wander into the caves. The caves will be filled with concrete that is colored to match the bluff, and the infills will be keyed into the rock.

According to GeoPacifica, an Oceanside-based erosion control services company acting as the City’s third party geotechnical reviewer, the site is in imminent danger of collapse. The California Coastal Commission has also mandated the maintenance of the seacaves.

The property is deed restricted from having a seawall and the applicant stated there will be no new development at the site. But Surfrider Beach Preservation coordinator Jim Jaffee, a Solana Beach resident, brought up the “magnitude” of the infills and asked the question: “When does an infill become a seawall and when does a maintenance project turn into a new development?”

Jaffee pointed out that erosion can be a positive thing, leaving rock and reef formations and expanding the beach. Such maintenance as seawalls prevents these natural assets, he said.

“When they collapse you get beautiful things like Whale Rock that we all like to look at,” he said. “It got there because of bluff erosion.”

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said Jaffee brought up good points and that she understands both sides of the issue.

“If we didn’t do the infills, then at what point would it become an emergency?” she said, adding that an emergency situation may call for a seawall, a measure that would have to face the Coastal Commission. “This is a hard one for many of us up here.”

Councilman David Roberts said he is sympathetic with both sides, but there is a requirement by the Coastal Commission to maintain the site that has to be met.

Councilman Mike Nichols said it is unarguable that there is a danger presented by the condition of the bluff.

David Winkler, who lives atop the bluff next to the applicant, said there have been several instances of death from bluff collapse in San Diego, and he’s concerned about safety.

“My very own granddaughter and a friend of hers went into that deep cave at the south end of the Bannasch property on Oct. 1,” he said. “I went after them screaming at them to get out of there, envisioning that bluff coming down on them.”