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The Oceanside City Council has approved a proposal to restore the city's once sandy beaches, which are now mostly rock and pebble. Photo by Samantha Nelson
The Oceanside City Council has approved a proposal to restore the city's once sandy beaches, which are now mostly rock and pebble. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Oceanside council approves sand restoration pilot project

OCEANSIDE — The City Council is moving forward with the jury-recommended proposal to restore the city’s once sandy beaches, which over the years have been reduced to mostly rock and pebble.

Australian firm International Coastal Management has proposed a “living speed bump” concept that entails building rounded headlands with dune vegetation on top to stabilize sand on the back beach and an offshore artificial reef to impede nearshore erosive forces.

The headlands would look similar to the small headlands below the Oceanside Pier. 

The design also intends to restore biodiversity in the area by providing new spaces for organisms to settle and enhance the local surf conditions, according to Aaron Salyer, principal engineer and director at ICM.

The Oceanside City Council unanimously approved the concept on Jan. 31, which was recommended by a team of jurors at the beginning of the year with modifications including refinement of the top of the headland space to use more environmentally or aesthetically pleasing elements that blend with Oceanside’s character and the use of rock instead of geotextile bags for construction of the artificial nearshore reef.

According to city staff, the pilot project will cost between $30 and $50 million and is anticipated to be shovel-ready by 2026. The project will be monitored closely and adjusted as necessary to fix any issues, and it can be removed if it ultimately does not work. 

The council also requested staff to study installing a sand bypass system from the harbor to help add sand to its southern beaches. 

Supervisor Jim Desmond spoke during a press conference last week, urging the Oceanside City Council to approve a pilot project aimed at restoring the city's beaches. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Supervisor Jim Desmond and other local officials spoke during a press conference last week, urging the Oceanside City Council to approve a pilot project aimed at restoring the city’s beaches. Photo by Samantha Nelson

ICM and the city will be responsible for convincing the California Coastal Commission, Surfrider Foundation, and neighboring cities of the pilot project’s value.

In 2021, the City Council first approved a pilot project that would install groins along the city’s coastline but took a step back after neighboring coastal cities rejected the proposal due to concerns the groins would impact sand levels on beaches further south. 

After pulling back, the city partnered with Resilient Cities Catalyst and GHD firms to begin the Coastal Resilience Design Competition, or RE:BEACH, which invited design and engineering firms worldwide to submit innovative ideas to help restore Oceanside’s beaches. ICM was chosen out of that competition. 

Salyer compared Oceanside’s beach dilemma to the Gold Coast of Australia, which also struggled with dwindling beaches until the living speed bump concept was implemented. 

“It’s almost like a direct parallel,” Salyer said, comparing an old photo of the Gold Coast before its sandy beaches were restored to Oceanside’s present-day beaches and noting a similar rock wall formation in both photos.

The city will place the pilot at one of three potential segments: from 1st Street to Wisconsin Street Beach, from Wisconsin to Buccaneer Beach, or from Buccaneer to the Buena Vista Lagoon at the southern city limits.

While it’s still too early for Surfrider to comfortably take a hard stance on whether or not it supports the project, state commissioners encouraged the city to push forward through its beach design competition and to apply a creative concept.

Mayor Esther Sanchez, who backed ICM’s concept, said the project must have the approval of neighboring coastal cities to move forward.

“I do feel very strongly that if they support this, it’s going to happen,” Sanchez said. “If they were to oppose the project, it would never see the light of day, and this is too much investment for something not to happen.”

The mayor’s support of the pilot project, according to Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim, encouraged him in his advocacy for restoring sandy beaches.

The council’s unanimous approval earned loud applause from audience members who packed the council chambers at City Hall. Several of those supporters are members of Save Oceanside Sand, a local nonprofit organization that was formed a few years ago to encourage the city to save its beaches.

Bob Ashton, president and CEO of Save Oceanside Sand, commended the city for its process leading up to the final decision.

“We’ve reached a historic milestone,” Ashton said.

Although the majority of public speakers at the council meeting were supportive of the project, opponents feared the project would negatively impact surf conditions and would take away precious ocean views from The Strand. 

Oceanside resident Shari Mackin also criticized what she believes is a lack of nature-based retention systems in place with the project. 

“[The headlands] proposed are simply fat groins,” Mackin said.

According to Salyer, the difference is that a groin is a hard structure that juts far out into the water to trap sand. In contrast, a rounded headland works with the intertidal zone closer to shore, which in turn works more naturally than a groin would. He also noted that the dune vegetation on top of the headland is a nature-based sand retention process as well.

Mitch Silverstein of the Surfrider Foundation said it was still too early for the organization to determine whether it was for or against the project.

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