Erosion debate about Sunset Cliffs is not helped by U-T’s misleading photo.

by on January 16, 2012 · 11 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, Popular, San Diego

U-T's photo by K.C. Alfred is misleading as it purports to show drastic erosion - but those ruts and gullies have been there for decades.

Editor:  Along with the following article by U-T reporter Mike Lee about the erosion in Sunset Cliffs Park, was a photo purporting to show drastic erosion at the Park. But the photo (see above) is misleading as it shows a hillside full of ruts and erosion runways – yet a hillside I know well. The hillside is just beyond the intersection of Sunset Cliffs Blvd and Ladera Street. I know it well because I lived in the immediate neighborhood as a teenager and played on that very hill and others in the area.  I can attest that the same hillside has looked that way since I was 13 (now I’m sixty-something). 

Ye ol' Needle's Eye at Sunset Cliffs. It was brought down by erosion, wind, surf, and maybe earthquakes. Should we have attempted to save it?

But the debate over what to do and how to “control” the erosion at Sunset Cliffs goes on, but that discussion is not helped with misleading photos.  We need to have the debate and utilize non-intrusive solutions.

By Mike Lee / U-T San Diego / Originally published Jan. 7, 2012

Across Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, fast-flowing water has carved chasms in the iconic seaside spot so that one prominent website recently named it one of the nation’s top five “disappearing places.”

Pounding waves such as the big ones that hit last week are the most obvious force and the impetus for armoring the shoreline so that Sunset Cliffs Boulevard doesn’t give way. But the problem that’s getting the most attention these days is the urban runoff that carries loads of soil to the ocean and leaves behind a labyrinth of increasingly frail dirt formations.

Because so much of the land uphill from the park is covered by roads and buildings, there’s relatively little space for rain water to soak into the soil, a classic environmental conundrum that defies cheap or quick solutions.

Two decades after pollution regulators highlighted the storm water problem at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego is a few months away from releasing a study that’s expected to call for a new multimillion-dollar drainage system that includes piercing the bluffs to divert water seaward.

Already, some community and environmental leaders are unhappy about the city’s approach. They are pushing for “softer” strategies aimed at capturing and reusing storm water in the drought-prone region — even as they worry that rethinking solutions will delay improvements.

For the remainder of this article, please go here.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

JEC January 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm

A difficult question – erosion is a constant measured in millions of years. It seems to me the cliffs – all coastline for that matter – erodes, changes with time. Add to it the rising sea levels and seawalls, jettys, beaches that we know today – in a thousand years they will all be different; in 5,000 years not even a memory. And we will fight it – it’s what humans do – precariously cling to the surface of a living planet. Like the weather, our best approach might be to work with these forces of change. In 1925 Bacon intersected with Del Mar. Houses that today sit on the cliff’s edge were built on the EAST side of bacon in the 30’s and 40’s. In 70 years the cliffs from about Del Monte down to Pescadero have eroded about 120 feet. Is Planned Retreat the answer?


4oceans January 17, 2012 at 8:00 am

Bluffs do what bluffs are supposed to do: they crumble. They nourish the beach. They create sandy beaches. Armoring or dealing with natural bluff retreat as an ’emergency’ or getting freaked out from ‘erosion’ and building seawalls is a fools errand that doesn’t work, drowns the beach and only exacerbates sea rise and bluff crumbling.


Frank Gormlie January 17, 2012 at 8:05 am

4Oceans – thank you. Trying to keep the cliffs from eroding is trying to stop the normal routine of nature itself. Would we attempt to shore up the cliffs at the Grand Canyon to keep them from crumbling? I think not. In fact, any effort that way would be met with stern resistance.


Adam Enright January 17, 2012 at 10:03 am

The issue with the Cliffs is not one of natural erosion. It is an issue of erosion exasperated by a multitude of paved areas upslope from the park that produce drastically higher quantities of stormwater/runoff during storm events. In a natural setting, rain would be absorbed by the vegetation on the slope and any erosion would occur naturally. Since there is so much hardscape above the park, storm events cause large amounts of water to flow down through stormdrains at high velocity, causing unnatural erosion. No one wants seawalls on the cliffs. Everyone understands that tidal erosion creates our beaches. What we don’t want is the park to fall into the ocean due to preventable causes related to poor stormwater management, and shortsighted development. I can guarantee that PLNU will be screaming for seawalls when the erosion starts to threaten their campus.


Belinda Smith January 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Adam’s comments nailed it.

Also, this article’s headline is misleading. There is no question that the Cliffs are eroding. They have been eroding for years, and will continue to. As Adam says, they are eroding vastly more rapidly because of the PLNU development above them. All the hard surfaces of the campus like roads, and roofs, channelize the water, washing the land away in heaving rains, rather than letting the rainwater sink into the land, as Mother Nature intended.

PLNU needs to protect the park because it’s their back door, but they have not yet. They would be smart to make all road, parking lots, etc. permeable. They would also be smart to capture all rainwater off their roofs, and use it later on their ball fields, or to water their campus gardens.


RB January 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Belinda, do you capture rainwater?
Everyone in San Diego should have a capture system on their gutters.


OB Dude January 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm

I don’t know if Belinda captures rainwater but I bet she doesn’t use a ballpark that belongs to a preseve which gets water and helps errode the cliffs. Get rid of that park as recommended by the Rec Council and approved by the City Council. The college has a duty to obey the law or….. does God tell them just to disobey?


RB January 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Nobody uses a ballpark that belongs to the preserve. That issue was resolved a couple of years ago. You need to get out more and walk the site.


OB Dude January 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Precisely, so get rid of it! The college should be responsible for it’s removal they go to use it free all these years.


ob jefe January 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Blaming PLNU and rainwater is a joke. There is more permeable land and natural coastline there than anywhere else on Point Loma, and less erosion I think. The park is disappearing NORTH of Ladera St., where only features like Luscombe’s Point and the arch at Osprey remain of what we considered “natural” coastline. The issue here, people, are seawalls. Once they are built in an area, all surrounded natural coastline gets eaten up from the bottom up. It is because all the ocean energy gets deferred to those natural zones and there is no greater erosive force.

If you want a preview of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park’s fate, study what the coastine looks like north of the foot of Addair St. The seawalls built between there and the pier have dessimated everthing natural around them, from the bottom up. The same is happening south of there, only taking longer because there are fewer of the walls. The rainwater is a distraction from the real erosion issue.


john January 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm

We accept that erosion and the cliffs crumbling into the sea is the natural order of things, those wanting to build seawalls do so because they want to protect their investments in real estate.
Most people of wealth usually have the kind of intelligence to know not to buy something that’s in jeopardy of loss to mother nature, I guess not so in this case.
Since not everyone who is concerned is a wealthy land owner and likely just enjoys the beauty of nature, just remember nature brings us volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes….
I think it will get real interesting in a few decades when the city has to start moving Sunset Cliffs Blvd eastward and thus have to start absorbing the most expensive properties to do so. Hopefully with enough vision to go a few hundred feet, not dozens.


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