The Coast News Group

Sea walls have some residents seeing red

Perhaps you’ve seen all the action at Terramar in Carlsbad lately. Construction crews are working hard to install a 95-foot section of sea wall in an effort to stabilize the bluff below somebody’s expensive backyard. The project comes at no cost to taxpayers, as it is the homeowner atop the bluff who is footing the bill. His justification for spending half a million dollars to jumpstart the project is public safety. He’s worried sick about imminent bluff failure and the sunbathing folks below. Not everyone is buying his rationalization. 
The city of Carlsbad granted the homeowner an emergency sea wall permit June 10. A few days later, construction began. What concerns me the most is the absolute disregard for public input or formal review. Scientific experts could undoubtedly spend several months evaluating and assessing the various impacts of this project. It is precisely because of the lack of public input that the sea wall could be removed or altered if enough people voice their opposition with the Coastal Commission. 
The Terramar sea wall seems to rehash an old debate: why on earth would City Council allow mansions to be built atop precariously unstable bluffs? Why isn’t the city enforcing setback laws or considering other well-planned designs? Where do they find these geologists who approve such a risky move in the first place?
Ironically, sea walls can create a number of erosion problems. The end around effect, for example, occurs when sea walls work so well, erosion nibbles away at nearby unprotected bluffs. So at Terramar, neighbors to the north of the wall (there are no homes on the bluff south of the project) could potentially experience rapid bluff erosion. This might explain why the state of California has seen a drastic increase in the total mileage of sea walls over the years.    
Sea walls are also known to hinder public beach access, usually at high tide when the water consumes the shore. It’s one reason why southern Oceanside has no beach at high tide. Considering the diminutive size of Terramar, you can see why quite a few people are concerned with the potential negative side effects of reinforcing the bluff.
Sadly, a number of hurtful comments were made on the North County Times Web site concerning surfers and sea walls. Few were constructive or useful. Surfers may be a self-serving lot, but they also are truly enchanted with the sea. They become stewards of the water. Look at it this way: if the city said “we’re building a large structure in your backyard, it’s going to look unsightly, and you have no choice but to agree to the project,” you might be upset. Not only could the sea wall destroy a decent break, but it could swamp out a unique “locals only” beach as well. Perhaps you can understand their apprehension.
Personally, I can make a case for and against sea walls. In our Terramar example, I’m not so sure where I stand. I hope the homeowner’s intentions are honest, that he cares for the safety of beachgoers below his yard. If so, he certainly is a charitable man.