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Del Marred: Planning to Fail for Sea Level Rise

In a 4-1 decision earlier this week, Del Mar’s City Council voted to withdraw an important sea level rise planning document from review at the June 10 Coastal Commission meeting.

Having been involved in the Local Coastal Program Amendment process since 2014, Surfrider has been urging the City Council to move its draft Amendment forward with Coastal Commission review after nearly 3 years of delay.

The Coastal Commission is tasked with overseeing sea level rise planning (through the Local Coastal Program updating process) as a way of providing a ‘check’ on local development decisions in order to safeguard public rights to the beach; as well as balance access, public safety and private property rights. 

By not allowing the Coastal Commission to review the plan, Del Mar will likely continue a stalemate between the City and the Coastal Commission that has emerged due to the City’s refusal to acknowledge that the City must consider thresholds for moving structures inland from the coastline, instead of attempting to ‘hold the line’ with structural engineering tactics.

Ironically, the City fully supports relocation of 1.7 miles of coastal blufftop railroad, a sewer pump station, and its only fire station which are all now all severely threatened by erosion and/or flooding.  All of these exemplify relocation as a sea level rise response strategy.

Having an approved Local Coastal Program would provide a timely mechanism for the city to certify its vision in the rail relocation process, which will involve many public agencies, and which Surfrider hopes to see achieved in the next ten years.

An approved LCP would also have provided guidance about development setbacks from hazardous areas as well as required coastal access in new development; including on the treasured North Bluff above Dog Beach. Surfrider successfully objected to development proposals from Marisol in early 2020 for the undeveloped 17.5 acres of coastal bluff at the Northern boundary of Del Mar on the basis of inadequate setbacks from the bluff edge.

When the Coastal Commission does finally review Del Mar’s plan, it will look for compliance with the Coastal Act, A California law that requires development built after 1976 to provide access to the beach, as well as setbacks intended to limit the armoring of the beach and the loss of beach access.

Del Mar has extensively studied its vulnerabilities to sea level rise and without a plan to properly respond for those risks, the city is planning to fail and leaving uncertainty around development decisions near the beach and in its floodplains. Recent decisions made on rail relocation and at the North Bluffs site speak to a timely need for broad scale sea level rise guidance. Surfrider hopes to work with the City in coming months to move closer to a plan that will allow the City and its residents to properly plan for the future.

Check out our King Tide footage (a window into the future of sea level rise) for Del Mar by clicking on the photo below.

Video by Stephanie Lawrence