*Silverstein is our chapter's policy coordinator and serves on the RE:BEACH design selection jury as a non-voting advisory member. He lives in Oceanside.
On Tuesday, August 29, the City of Oceanside hosted the first of three public workshops for their RE:BEACH design competition to a fully packed City Council chambers.
RE:BEACH is the rebranded name for Phase 2 of Oceanside’s Sand Nourishment and Retention Pilot Project, which launched in February when the City Council supported a multiyear contract with engineering firm GHD to assist with design, environmental review, and permitting for the winning sand retention concept.
GHD previously completed Phase 1 of the project in 2021, which assessed several options to restore Oceanside’s beaches and concluded that sand nourishment, coupled with traditional groin fields, would be the most viable solution. In August 2021, the previous City Council voted 4-1 in support of a pilot groin project.
However, both Surfrider and several downdrift cities (Carlsbad, Solana Beach, and Del Mar) expressed concerns that a groin field would further disrupt the natural north-south flow of sand to southern cities’ beaches, and that a more regional approach was needed to ensure Oceanside’s proposals would not negatively impact beaches downcoast. You can learn more about our previous position HERE.
In response to such criticism, the Phase 2 contract abandoned the groin field and went back to the drawing board. It included a novel concept conceived by an organization called the Resilient Cities Catalyst (RCC): an international design competition to spur an innovative sand retention pilot project that, in addition to helping Oceanside’s beaches, would not negatively affect beaches to the south. The competition would afford multiple opportunities for public input, and the winning concept would be ultimately decided by a jury composed of various coastal specialists, local stakeholders, and representatives from affected cities to the south. Learn more at the RE:BEACH website.
I should emphasize this competition is centered around a pilot sand retention strategy, and that Surfrider generally opposes sand retention devices. Our vision for the coast involves restoring the natural processes that create beaches in the first place, natural processes which have been severely compromised by a century of development along our coast and upstream along rivers that historically brought sand to our beaches. To that end, we generally oppose the addition of any additional hard structures along our coast. While they may help one beach, they invariably harm others. Furthermore, they’re derivative of the same coastal engineering paradigm that’s wreaked havoc on our beaches. Case in point: the Oceanside Harbor Complex, which everyone agrees exacerbated the erosion of the city’s beaches by blocking sand flow from the north.
But desperate times call for a collaborative approach, and Oceanside deserves credit for going back to the drawing board after their initial proposal sparked regional controversy. The fact that the City stepped back from a locally-popular groin field proposal in favor of a year-long, collaborative process in search of a better, more nature-based solution is a victory in and of itself.
Below you’ll find a recording of the presentations, a link to the public feedback form, my “hot takes” from the three team presentations, and some thoughts about what comes next.
*public feedback is open through the month of September
- This was everyone’s first glimpse at what the teams have come up with so far, and the excitement in the room was palpable. Supporters, skeptics, city council members, and most of the jury members were in the room.
- I’m pleased to report that none of the teams presented a traditional groin field, a fear that project skeptics had from the onset.
- While the proposals were diverse, one commonality among them is that they’ll all require A LOT of new sand. Oceanside is concurrently seeking to source and permit beach-quality sand for replenishment, most likely from an offshore source but all options are on the table.
- All three teams proposed their pilot projects at/around Tyson Street Park, Wisconsin St., and Buccaneer Beach.
- The public has 30 days to submit feedback to the design teams, and the next workshop will be on October 17. RCC stressed that the feedback should be focused on helping each team improve their proposals for the next workshop, rather than simply picking a favorite.
- Of all the proposals, Deltarres’ certainly had some of the most innovative elements. However, their initial concepts were the most reliant on building permanent structures, and some of them seemed “pie in the sky” and out of touch with the character of southern California beaches.
- For example, they proposed building an artificial breakwater at Tyson Street Park with a public park on top of it. Such a structure would likely be dead on arrival at the Coastal Commission, nor do I think Oceanside surfers would welcome such a wave-altering structure at a popular surf spot.
- Similarly, they proposed a “productive archipelago” of small, man made islands on stilts just offshore of Wisconsin St. Their concept of growing kelp fields and attracting marine life to the islands was intriguing, but the whole construct was too artificial looking for my tastes. If an artificial reef to attenuate wave energy and retain sand is their concept, I’d prefer something more subtle (i.e. underwater).
- Unsurprisingly, I did not like Deltarres’ reliance on permanent structures. If they were built and did not function as intended, it would be a colossal waste of time and money and who knows how long we’d be stuck with them?
- That said, Deltarres had a large toolbox of concepts. They were the only team with an interactive display that allowed attendees to actually combine and place features in different places along Oceanside’s coast. Of all the teams, they seemed most intent on hearing feedback from the public. This leads me to believe that their next presentation could evolve significantly based on our feedback.
The "Dunepark" at Tyson Street Park
- I’ll cut to the chase, SCAPE’s vision was my overall favorite because it parallels closely with concepts that Surfrider supports, like nature-based strategies over hard structures along our beaches.
- SCAPE is the only team that talked about accelerated sea level rise and increasing storm severity caused by climate change. They were also the only team to mention the need for a larger vision of restoring sand supply from blocked rivers upstream. These are extremely important points for Surfirder, as our coastal advocacy is rooted in the need for proactive planning today to protect our beaches from the threats of tomorrow.
- They proposed re-orienting The Strand behind Tyson Street Park and transforming the park into a dune park, which was music to my ears. Such a plan would be practical, effective, and feasible since the park sits on city-owned land. Wherever possible, moving back from the ocean is more sustainable than attempting to re-sand a submerged beach.
- Their other concepts were similarly practical. Both involved reconfiguring the existing cobbles that dominate Oceanside’s shores to create “cobble spines” and “cobble crests” that would bolster beach sand retention. For Buccaneer Beach, they proposed assembling the cobblestones to create nearshore reefs to attenuate wave energy and aid in sand retention.
- SCAPE’s concepts struck me as the most realistic from both a permitting perspective (i.e. the Coastal Commission) and a funding perspective, since there is currently an abundance of state and federal grant funding available for nature-based climate and sea level rise resilience projects. Their concepts were also very nimble - they could be actively managed, adjusted, and even moved over time as opposed to the Deltarres concepts, which seemed quite permanent.
- However, some Oceansiders may consider SCAPE’s concepts to be less aggressive - and therefore, less promising - than the other two teams.
A new harbor bypass system
- ICM came right out and proposed a permanent sand bypass system around the Oceanside Harbor, a concept that every stakeholder can get behind. The US Army Corps built such a system in the late 80’s, but decommissioned it shortly thereafter due to mechanical issues and prohibitive costs. The ICM spokesperson referenced the old system, countering that technology has advanced considerably since then… and that ICM has successfully engineered similar systems along Australia’s Gold Coast. ICM was the only team to propose a specific sand replenishment strategy in concert with their retention concepts.
- While not as nimble as SCAPE’s concepts, ICM’s remaining ideas were more nimble than the permanent structures proposed by Deltarres. Their toolbox included submerged nearshore reefs coupled with nearshore sand replenishment, their argument being that replenishing sand in nearshore waters is much cheaper than depositing it on the dry beach and allows for greater volumes. Like SCAPE, they also mentioned Oceanside’s ubiquitous cobblestones as a potential material for their nearshore reefs (by putting them in giant sacks, essentially).
- ICM also proposed several more concepts including small, artificial headlands along the coast that would slow down sand rather than blockade it like a large groin, and offer a more natural look and feel. Another concept they offered was a partially visible/partially submerged “tombolo” reef, which looked like what you might get if a groin and an artificial reef had a baby.
- ICM was less specific about exact location for each concept, leaning more towards a three-pronged approach that included sand replenishment, nearshore reefs, and top of beach features like the tombolo or artificial headlands working in unison at all of the pilot locations.
- Despite my initial preference for SCAPE’s approach, I think many Oceansiders who attended will lean towards ICM as their initial favorite. Their spokesperson inspired confidence since ICM has successfully implemented all of these concepts along Australia’s Gold Coast, which once suffered similar beach loss as Oceanside.
Public feedback is open for the next 30 days, and I encourage everyone with interest in this project to watch the presentation recording and provide feedback. I’m hopeful that this competition, and the spirit of collaboration it engenders, will ultimately achieve its goal - a solution that improves Oceanside’s beaches but also benefits the entire North County coast. It’s admittedly a tall order, which is why feedback from everyone (including you) is so important. The next public workshop will be on October 17; details to come.