DEL MAR — Dirt may be cheap, but sand — or at least replacing it — is not, which is why City Council unanimously elected at the April 20 meeting to not participate further in the San Diego Association of Governments regional sand replenishment project.
The city was asked to commit $18,338 in the upcoming fiscal year to help fund three implementation tasks — an environmental review, permitting and preparation of final engineering plans — for the $22.9 million project. In the following two years, Del Mar would have been asked for an additional $201,093, for a three-year commitment of $219,431.
“We have great concern about staying involved,” interim Planning Director Brian Mooney said. “Although we would like to participate … we, at this stage, can’t fiscally commit to that.”
City Manager Karen Brust said additional funding would not be available “without taking it from essential city services.”
Mayor Crystal Crawford said the council’s decision should come as no surprise to SANDAG. “We’ve been saying consistently, all along that we can’t afford this,” Crawford said. “It’s regrettable, but it’s not a surprise.”
Councilman Mark Filanc, who represents the city on SANDAG’s shoreline preservation work group, said the intimation was for Del Mar “to stay in the game to keep … the politics of the overall situation moving forward.”
“We’ve objected … just about every step of the way,” Councilman Richard Earnest said. “I don’t like the idea of kidding ourselves and saying we’ll pony up some money so we can keep a political flag waving. I don’t think that’s how we ought to spend the taxpayers’ money.”
Council members sympathized with neighboring Solana Beach, which desperately needs sand because erosion is undercutting the bluffs and threatening lives and homes. But because Del Mar can’t participate in the long term, allocating $18,000 now “is just throwing good money after bad,” Filanc said.
Councilman Carl Hilliard, who’s opposed funding the project all along, agreed.
“We don’t have the money to go forward, period,” he said. “I think dribbling money out just to try and be good neighbors when we know that we’re not going to be able to pay the full amount is just a waste of funds.”
Hilliard said he also did not support the project because of a lack of participation by all cities in the county. “This is a regional asset that their citizens enjoy substantially, but there’s always been a resistance on their part to contribute a nickel toward sand replenishment,” he said. “Their assumption is that … we’re getting all the benefit of all the tourist dollars that come here because of the beach, and that’s a flawed assumption.”
Del Mar is one of seven coastal cities being asked to fund the project. Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Imperial Beach have taken action to commit funding for the first-phase project tasks. The only other city that hasn’t committed is San Diego, which was allocated a $1.2 million obligation for the next three years. If San Diego goes the way of Del Mar, costs will increase for the other cities.
In 1996, SANDAG adopted a shoreline preservation strategy that outlines an extensive beach replenishment and maintenance program for critical erosion areas in the region. In 2001, sand was placed at 12 locations in the county, including Del Mar. The U.S. Navy and California Department of Boating and Waterways provided 100 percent funding for that $17.5 million project.
This past September, SANDAG received a $6.5 million grant for a second replenishment program from the Department of Boating and Waterways, which pledged two additional $6.5 million grants in 2010 and 2011, with a 15 percent matching requirement from the region.
Del Mar allocated $34,500 from its current fiscal year budget for preliminary project plans. Unlike some other cities, it doesn’t have a designated funding source such as sea wall mitigation fees or hotel taxes. The city’s total portion of the project would be more than $1.2 million for 180,000 cubic yards of sand for the beach between 19th and 27th streets.
Del Mar is slated to receive 80,000 to 90,000 cubic yards of sand later this year from the San Dieguito Lagoon restoration project.
Also at issue, Filanc said, is that “the best sand available up and down the coast is parked right off of the city of Del Mar,” making it an ideal borrowing site for sand replenishment. But the state is considering designating the area off limits under the Marine Life Protection Act. Should that happen, council members said they would advocate allowing neighboring cities to use at least some of the sand.
“Being able to have that to borrow for sand replenishment is important,” Filanc said.