CARLSBAD — A battle over sand is brewing between the neighboring cities of Oceanside and Carlsbad.
During its Jan. 11 meeting, the Carlsbad City Council approved a resolution opposing the City of Oceanside’s plan to construct four groins and a sand bypass system designed to minimize sand loss at the city’s beaches.
Hundreds of residents, mostly from Oceanside, either wrote letters or called into the meeting urging Carlsbad officials to work collaboratively with their neighbors to the north, despite the Oceanside City Council approving a pilot program without first contacting any other coastal city.
Oceanside has been struggling with beach erosion for nearly 80 years following the construction of Camp Pendleton’s harbor in 1942, and sand nourishment projects alone have not been helping to keep sand on the beach.
Kyle Lancaster, Carlsbad’s director of parks and recreation, said Oceanside experiences a loss of sand between 100,000 to 200,000-cubic yards each year.
But Oceanside’s plan must first be approved by the California Coastal Commission.
Oceanside is calling for at least four, 600-foot groins spaced 1,000 feet apart along the pilot area. The staff report said an estimated 300,000-cubic-yards of sand would be deposited in the groin fields to start the proposed project.
This irony did not sit well with Carlsbad Councilman Peder Norby, who blasted the Oceanside City Council for passing the action item in August without first consulting with Carlsbad officials.
“I can see this ripple effect all the way down the coast,” Norby said. “It’s a really, really amateur move. I’ll go on record asking the City of Oceanside to rescind that item.”
By way of the north shore current, sand from Oceanside beaches ultimately finds its way to Carlsbad and other cities south, which is then used to replenish those beaches.
The Carlsbad Beach Preservation Commission voted on Jan. 4 to recommend the City Council oppose Oceanside’s project. Carlsbad City Manager Scott Chadwick said the city was not contacted by Oceanside until Dec. 28. Since then, Chadwick reported having a productive call on Jan. 10 with Oceanside City Manager Deanna Lorson.
In August 2021, the Oceanside City Council approved the Beach Sand Replenishment and Retention Device Feasibility Study in a 4-1 vote. The study considered four options — more beach nourishment, groin installations, a south jetty extension or an artificial reef.
Oceanside’s efforts to replenish sand on the city’s beaches rely on dredging the harbor, which takes sand and puts it on the city’s beaches. A finer grain of sand, it quickly makes its way from the beach into the inner tidal zone and eventually ends up back in the harbor trapped like before due to shifting north and south swells.
“Obviously, this is a regional problem,” Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez told the council on Jan. 11. “I’ve been in discussions with Mayor Matt Hall on how to address this issue. We’ve been talking with North County mayors on how to move forward in an efficient way.”
Other regional beach fills from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 and 2012 brought courser sand to the beaches, but the sand quickly dispersed further south, benefitting cities like Carlsbad and its Tamarack State Beach, which has its own jetty to trap sand there.
“We’ve been losing our shoreline for years,” Oceanside Public Works Director Kiel Koger said in August. “In the past 20 years since being monitored, we have lost our shoreline at a rate of 3 feet per year on average.”
Oceanside plans on installing the groins south of Wisconsin Street to test their effectiveness, although the California Coastal Commission must approve the plan. How the commission may rule, though, was a source of debate among the Oceanside City Council.
Mayor Esther Sanchez voted against the plan, saying it is unlikely the commission would approve the plan and other options should be considered first before dumping millions of dollars into groins.
Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim, who was in favor of moving forward with the project as soon as possible, said that although the commission could say no, he wants the city to try everything possible to fix the city’s beaches. Regardless, Oceanside still must first issue a request for a proposal for design, permitting and environmental work.
“We don’t have dry sand on most of our beaches,” Keim added. “The goal is to have a robust program … (and) bring more sand to everyone south of us.”
Laura Walsh, policy director at the Surfrider Foundation, said Oceanside should not be asking Carlsbad to sign off to give up its own sand for another community, noting the Coastal Commission has never approved a groin project at this scale.
Additionally, Walsh said the Oceanside Public Works Director spoke of extending the project to a 16-groin field. Walsh said this project illustrates the domino impacts for cities south of Oceanside, while the plan could be jammed up by lawsuits.