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North County Report: A Wave of Problems at Oceanside Harbor

Solana Beach’s energy program is not totally free of tax dollars, county supervisors may bundle development projects to get around state rules and more in our weekly roundup of North County news.

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The Oceanside Harbor was built in the 1960s to serve military, commercial and personal vessels for both the city and the Marine Corps with a shared entrance that led to the base’s boat basin.

Since it’s important to the operational needs of the base, the Army Corps of engineers has taken responsibility for dredging the entrance to the harbor every year, clearing the constant migration and buildup of sand that can cause ships to run aground or capsize in large surf. The city gets the added benefit of pumping the excess sand onto its beaches.

This week, however, the Army Corps of Engineers canceled the next dredging in Oceanside because of a wave of problems.

According to a database compiled by California State Park’s Division on Boating and Waterways, Oceanside’s harbor has been dredged every year or two since the harbor was built. Oceanside City Manager Michelle Lawrence said those dredgings have been mostly incident-free, until recently.

In 2015, the Corps identified that more sand needed to be removed from the mouth of the harbor than was authorized by Congress. It was up to Oceanside, a cash-strapped city, to come up with the money to dredge the rest of the sand that year, which cost an extra $600,000.

The next year, the Corps had trouble getting the necessary permits to start dredging and hired a new contractor who had smaller equipment than previous crews. That led to what was normally a two- to three-week task lasting five months, during the city’s peak tourist season.

This year, the Corps also had trouble getting its permits in time to complete the project before the tourist season began. A representative from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, one of the permit-issuing agencies, was blunt in his response.

“This is a familiar situation,” Alan Monji, an environmental scientist, told the Union-Tribune.

The city is still looking for a reason for the cancellation, according to a memo to the City Council. Lawrence called the situation “irritating at best.”

Even though some of these problems are unique to Oceanside, issues of finding contractors and securing permits should be a cautionary lesson for other cities looking to replenish their beach sand through dredging – especially if they’re looking for federal help.

At least two cities have turned to the Army Corps of Engineers to help replenish their beaches, both for tourism or preventing erosion: Encinitas and Solana Beach.

In 2016, Encinitas and Solana Beach were approved for a 50-year, $167 million dredging project by the Army Corps of Engineers, which will put sand on their beaches every five or 10 years, respectively. The cities would be on the hook for half the cost, which works out to about $2.2 million per year in Encinitas and $1.6 million in Solana Beach.

Solana Beach CCA Not Totally Free of Taxpayer Funds

Solana Beach is set to launch the first community choice aggregation energy program in the county, allowing the city to control where it purchases energy for its customers.

In the run-up to the decision to actually establish the CCA, proponents said the agency would be completely self-funded from ratepayers and wouldn’t put any tax dollars at risk.

This week, VOSD’s Ry Rivard looked into that claim, and found it a stretch to say tax dollars aren’t on the line. Solana Beach recently approved a $117,000 loan to the CCA to help bridge funds until the agency begins collecting its own revenue. The funds are a small part of the city’s and CCA’s budgets, and will be repaid in time, but they do represent taxpayer funds going into the formation of the CCA program.

Amendment ‘Bundling’ Could Mean Big Changes in North County

The Union-Tribune reports this week that county supervisors will consider bundling proposed general plan amendments from as many as six separate developments in unincorporated parts of the county to get around current zoning regulations and a state cap on the number of such amendments that can be passed per year.

One candidate for county supervisor in District 5, which includes the sites of several proposed projects, has made this issue and the involved developments the focus of her campaign: Democrat Jacqueline Arisvaud.

“This is a brazen attempt to undermine the citizen input process by overwhelming them with multiple projects. It shows how little regard the county has for its citizens,” she wrote in a Facebook post in April.

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