Coastal Commission postpones deliberation on seawall project

Building protective structures along coastline continues to be a touchy subject.

SAN DIEGO — Coastal armoring in Orange County was back on the docket again at the most recent California Coastal Commission meetings. Commissioners postponed its deliberation of a proposal to build a seawall off the South Orange County coast, in hopes of giving Coastal Commission staff more time to craft alternate solutions.

The city of San Clemente hopes to build a new seawall to protect a 50-year-old building. The building – San Clemente’s Marine Safety Building – houses local lifeguard operations and supports coastal access. Erecting a new seawall, city officials argued, would help stifle sand erosion, which has marred the Marine Safety Building for decades. A seawall is currently in place; the new seawall would be built in front of the older structure.

San Clemente wants the seawall built, essentially, to give the city as much time as possible to build a new Marine Safety Building on the beach.

Coastal Commission staff presented two photos of the Marine Safety Building, which was built in 1968, to commissioners during its presentation: one photo was taken in 1972 and the other in 2018. The 1972 photo, taken as an aerial, clearly shows the building’s foundation area entirely covered or surrounded by sand.

Sand erosion at the same foundation area could clearly be seen in the 2018 photo, which was taken from ground level. The proposed seawall, according to Coastal Commission staff, is a short-term protection measure, which means its designed height does not take into account forecasted sea level rise.

“The city is characterizing the proposed project as repairs to extend the building’s life an additional five to 10 years, while a replacement building is being designed and constructed,” Liliana Roman, a planner with the Coastal Commission, told commissioners.

Commissioner Donne Brownsey said she was concerned with the length of the project term, which was proposed to be 15 years.

“I am concerned about … the ability of this building to be maintained on the beach with seawalls,” Brownsey said. “You can see the degradation of the beach from the ’72 photo to the present.”

Coastal Commission Chair Dayna Bochco questioned why a new Marine Safety Building had to be built on the beach. Perhaps the city should consider erecting the new building in a parking lot or somewhere else off the sand – eliminating the need for a 15-year Coastal Commission permit in the process.

No one from the city of San Clemente was present at the Oct. 12 public hearing; the seawall discussion was the final item on the Coastal Commission’s October meetings in San Diego. Commissioners and Coastal Commission staff hoped representatives from San Clemente would be in attendance when its proposal is reconsidered at a future meeting.

The Coastal Commission’s final two meetings of 2018 are on Nov. 7-9 in San Francisco and Dec. 12-14 in Newport Beach.

San Clemente is located in between Dana Point and Oceanside harbors. The city’s Marine Safety Building was built prior to the enactment of the Coastal Act.

Coastal armoring has been on the commission’s radar recently. Various cities, counties and other agencies have contemplated coastal armoring as a defense mechanism to predicted sea level rise. Questions have been raised, however, whether the building of seawalls and similar structures in the water actually cause more harm than good. Do seawalls actually cause more beach erosion or introduce non-native species to local waterways, for example?

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