The Coast News Group
For the past few years, city workers have used PVC pipe and duct tape to patch the Del Mar Shores Terrace access stairway, which was built in the 1970s. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Severe deterioration forces beach access closure in Solana Beach

SOLANA BEACH — What has been described as “severe deterioration” that “significantly compromised” the stairway at Del Mar Shores Terrace forced the city on Nov. 13 to indefinitely close the structure that serves as the southernmost access point to the beach. 

“The structural engineer concluded that there is a high probability that the staircase can collapse at any time,” according to an email blast sent to residents.

City Council unanimously directed staff at the Nov. 14 meeting to take all necessary actions to close the stairway to the public until it no longer poses a safety threat.

They also appropriated $4,000 from the general fund undesignated reserves to cover costs associated with the closure for items such as signs and fencing and $100,000 to complete final plans for a new structure.

City officials have been working to replace the stairway, which was built in the 1970s, for more than four years. The marine environment has caused the stairs, handrails and safety fencing to deteriorate.

The concrete is cracked and rebar is exposed and rusted.

According to a staff report, the Public Works Department has been regularly inspecting the structure and has spent significant time and money to keep up with basic cosmetic and safety repairs.

But in the past few months an accelerated increase in the rate of deterioration was observed. Staff noticed a section of concrete under two columns near the mid-span area was “severely delaminated and most of the reinforcing steel was completely exposed,” the staff report states.

A structural engineer determined the stairway didn’t meet minimum building code requirements for public use and recommended closure to ensure public safety.

A preliminary design to replace the structure was approved in 2009 but no funding was available. City officials applied for and received a permit from the California Coastal Commission that expires in 2013, however, City Manager David Ott said he is certain the city would be granted a one-time, one-year extension.

The city also applied for, but was denied, a grant from the Coastal Conservancy.

The cost to replace the stairway is estimated to be between $1.5 million to $1.7 million. Ott said about $275,000 from beach recreation fees is available, as is the city’s 2 percent portion of the transient occupancy tax designated for sand replenishment and beach access that amounts to about $150,000 annually.

Another $400,000 has been collected from property owners who built sea walls but Ott said he is hesitant to use all of those funds in the event that once a fee structure is finalized the city might have to return some of that money.

Ott said the city could also issue bonds or borrow the money.

Councilman Tom Campbell, an accountant, said he would prefer to use short-term loans.

City officials are also working with the Beach Improvement Group for private fundraising opportunities and reapplying for a $500,000 Coastal Conservancy grant.

Once final plans are complete, Ott said the project could go out to bid by spring 2013, with a contract awarded by the beginning of summer. He said construction will likely take at least a year since work would have to be done without large machinery.

“This really is an emergency … because we’re not going to have beach access for a long time,” resident Jim Jaffee said.

Joel Landberger said when he bought his Del Mar Shores Terrace condominium in 2004 the stairway was in “remarkably good condition.”

After reviewing maintenance records from 2005 to 2009, he said the city did not devote significant resources for repairs during that time.

He accused the city of “fiscal irresponsibility” for focusing on a plastic bag ban while allowing the “structure for seven years to fall into the ocean.”

“No stabilization of the basic structure occurred at all,” he said.