The collapsed bluff in Encinitas in August 2019. Courtesy OnScene.TV

A state lawmaker who represents northern San Diego County introduced Tuesday a bill designed to prevent coastal bluff collapses, a public hazard tragically exemplified by a cliff failure that killed three family members in Encinitas last summer.

The legislation presented by Sen. Patricia Bates, a Republican from Laguna Niguel, to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee in Sacramento would obligate public agencies and private owners of seafront property in San Diego and Orange Counties to mitigate coastal erosion.

Following the presentation, the chairman of the panel, Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat from Calabasas, said he would work with Bates to try to pass bipartisan legislation on the matter before Aug. 31, when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn its 2020 legislative session.

The added requirements that would be mandated by Senate Bill 1090, according to Bates’ office, would help prevent “tragedies on public beaches,” such as the Aug. 2 triple-fatality bluff collapse at Grandview Surf Beach in the Leucadia neighborhood.

Shortly before 3 p.m. that day, a roughly 25- by 30-foot section of sea cliff near Neptune Avenue gave way, collapsing onto Julie Davis, 65, her 35- year-old daughter, Anne Clave, and Davis’ 62-year-old sister, Elizabeth Cox. The latter victim, a San Francisco resident, died at the scene, and the other two, both of whom lived in Encinitas, succumbed to their injuries at hospitals.

The women, who had gathered at the beach near Batiquitos Lagoon to celebrate Cox’s victorious fight against breast cancer, were buried under tons of dirt and rock.

“There could have been more fatalities had friends and other family members present at the celebration not been a few feet away from the impact area at the time of the collapse,” Bates wrote in an opinion piece published last week by the Coast News.

Three months after the women’s deaths, a major cliff failure in Del Mar “put the entire coastal rail line in jeopardy and will now cost $100 million to repair,” the senator noted.

“Concerns over more bluff collapses have become especially acute in San Diego and Orange Counties,” Bates stated. “Millions of people visit our beaches each year but are forced to sit at the base of at-risk bluffs due to the lack of sand replenishment and minimal beach area during mid (level) to high tides.”

Though the California Coastal Act of 1976 requires construction that alters natural shoreline processes to be permitted by the California Coastal Commission or a local government with an approved local coastal program, the process “does not prioritize erosion mitigation,” according to Bates, who represents the 36th Senate District.

“Doing nothing to prevent additional bluff collapses is not acceptable,” she asserted.

SB 1090 would require the Coastal Commission to review and approve a public agency’s or homeowner’s application for erosion-mitigation efforts in regard to planting, drainage and seawall or other reinforcing structures. Approved applicants also would have to pay for the costs of sand replenishment and permit processing.

Following Tuesday afternoon’s committee meeting at the state Capitol, Bates praised her fellow lawmakers for their support of her efforts to make California’s iconic sea bluffs less prone to damaging and life-threatening collapses.

“Working with Senator Stern, I look forward to continuing the conversation on how we can best protect public safety, preserve beach access and safeguard private and public infrastructure,” she said.

Updated at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, 2020

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.