The City’s Plan for Sunset Cliffs Erosion: Install Pipes Through Cliffs, Install Drains at Base, and Dye Hillsides

by on June 29, 2012 · 1 comment

in California, Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Popular, San Diego

Beach at the foot of Sunset Cliffs near Ladera Street.

The City of San Diego has unfurled its plan to stem erosion of the Sunset Cliffs. In essence, the plan calls for pipes to be drilled through the cliffs, drains installed at the base of the cliffs, and to dye and texture surrounding hill and cliffsides so they appear “natural”.

The plan, presented by city associate civil engineer Paul Jacob, was given to a community meeting on June 20th, attended by about 30 concerned citizens at the Jim Howard Hall at Robb Field. Martin Jones Westlin wrote up a report for the Peninsula Beacon, published a week later.

The plan is in its final draft form, and is supposed to present a drainage system to reduce erosion of the Sunset Cliffs bluffs, throughout Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

Since the white man and Europeans colonized the Peninsula, there have been efforts to stop the erosion of these great cliffs. Cement retaining walls, boulders dropped over the side, and many other measures have been attempted over the decades in efforts to halt a naturally-occurring process.

Yet, the City is moving ahead with its latest plan, no doubt pressured by wealthy property owners who line the cliffs with their McMansions.

Needles Eye – a rock formation at Sunset Cliffs near the foot of Hill Street, before natural erosion took its toll.

Here is what Westlin reported:

 The city plan would pipe the cliffs, [Jacob] said, with a series of drains installed at the base of the bluffs, designed to intercept runoff from a so-called 50-year storm, or the amount of rainfall stemming from the most productive single storm of the last half-century.

 “That’s a lot of water,” Jacob said. “No [current engineering tool] would be able to hold that much water such that these storm drainpipes were not necessary. But we cannot at this point … put in all of the details about [specific anti-erosion measures] as we move forward,” he said, noting that the permit requirements will likely change as work progresses.

Westlin also reported:

Steve Jepsen, Dudek senior project manager, said the report contains specific methods of piping. Energy dissipators and pipeshafts measuring 10 feet by 10 feet would be installed, and the affected hillsides would be dyed and textured to blend with the natural surroundings.

Not everyone was happy with the report or the process.  Ann Swanson, chair of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council, questioned some of the plan’s priorities, noting that the so-called “perched groundwater” had never been listed as a problem in the City’s prior studies.  “Why did that become so important?” she asked.

Swanson also stated that the report lacked specifics in a number of areas.  For one, Swanson said, the city had  solicited the park council’s comments up until August 8th – a month and half away – on issues like increased ocean pollution from construction, plus details on how the plan affects the new park trail project.  And nobody heard back,” she added.

It sounds like Jacob then got a little testy. Westlin reports him saying:

“I would like to remind you, that we are in the final stages of this report. We are not going to be doing any major revisions regardless of how strongly you feel that we’ve screwed things up.”

Jacob then added that public comments will be accepted on the report only until July 20. He plans on making “modest editorial changes” by the end of August.

The final draft can be viewed at

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Kim June 30, 2012 at 7:23 am

Just curious has any thought been given to where the sand that supplies the beaches along the cliffs comes from? This is another bad expensive project that will lead to worse consequences than it solves!


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