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North County Report: Oceanside Moves Ahead on Groins Without Mayor’s Support

Boulder walls — called rip rap or revetments — along beach homes in Oceanside are used to protect properties from waves and high tides. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Oceanside city leaders voted to test beach groins and a sand bypass system in an effort to save the city’s beaches at a recent Council meeting.

The decision represents a shift away from the city’s last sand replenishment projects [1], and in a direction that other mayors in North County don’t agree with. They say the move will deplete their beaches as a result. Oceanside’s mayor isn’t on board with the decision, either.

Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez, who made the sole vote against the project at a recent City Council meeting, criticized her fellow Council members in an interview with Voice of San Diego.

“I think we’re looking like bad kids on the playground if we do this,” Sanchez, who was previously on the state Coastal Commission, said  Wednesday. “I’d rather we form it together with other north coastal cities. We should stick together.”

Still, the $1 million plan is moving forward. Oceanside will install several groins, which are perpendicular hard structures made out of rock used to maintain beaches by capturing sand moving in the longshore direction, and a sand bypass system as part of a newly approved pilot project meant to improve the city’s disappearing beaches, the Coast News reported [2].

Four groins will be placed south of Wisconsin Street to test their effectiveness, along with a sand bypass system to transport pumped sand to beaches via a network of underground pipelines. If successful, the city will add more groins on an as-needed basis along the city’s coastline. The city is also looking for sand from El Corazon, San Luis Rey River and the future Buena Vista Lagoon restoration project.

“The project will begin with an ‘adaptable and reversible’ design that will be informed by a scientific monitoring program led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography,” the Coast News reported [2].

But it’s unlikely to be approved by the state because it interferes with the natural flow of sand down the coast, Sanchez told me and a reporter from the Union-Tribune [3].

“Knowing that the Coastal Commission will not approve this, I think it is a waste of money,” she told the Union-Tribune.

She said a sand replenishment project would be a better investment and more cost effective option for the city, which “can barely afford to pay its police officers.”

The city has tried sand replenishment before, VOSD’s MacKenzie Elmer wrote in a recent Environment Report [4]. “Over the years, the city spent a lot of time and money pumping or hauling new sand onto its shrinking shoreline. That works for a hot minute — until natural ocean currents, storms and high tides swallow that sand away,” Elmer wrote.

The harbor dredging has been insufficient in recent years and the city has been looking for other ways to restore its eroding coastline.

“Studies show the sediment from the harbor is too fine-grained, and it quickly washes away in the surf and tides,” the Union-Tribune wrote.

Oceanside had a few options to consider. Long Beach consulting firm GHD, which was hired by the city, recommended Oceanside get a groin. It also offered other options like two artificial reefs or extending an existing jetty or continuing to slap sand on the beach (Sanchez’s preference).

“The best option for Oceanside is to build four 600-foot-long mini jetties (or groins) from Seagate Drive to just past Forster Street. That plan offered the best value after factoring in cost, environmental impact and performance,” Elmer wrote about the consultant’s report.

Everyone concedes that the beaches need saving, but there remains widespread disagreement over how to do that. Cities often share the same sand, even as they try different methods to preserve it.

Because sand generally moves from north to south most of the year, the grains end up nourishing other beaches or get stuck in deep ocean canyons.

Other North County cities like Carlsbad are working on plans to restore their beaches. Carlsbad and its Tamarack State Beach has its own jetty to trap sand there, the Coast News reported.

Sanchez said city staff didn’t consult with other mayors to try to work out a regional plan, and she isn’t happy about it. She said Oceanside needs to give in and work with other cities, not against them.

Sanchez also hinted at an “immediate internal problem.” The city can’t put sand on its beach right now because it doesn’t have a permit to do it. The city didn’t renew [5] its annual Sand Compatibility and Opportunistic Use Program permit before it expired this year, she said.

“We don’t seem to be able to do anything right, and that concerns me,” she said.

Things will only get worse when the city starts to really feel the impacts of human-caused global warming, and its vulnerability in the face of rising sea levels is exposed.

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