Bluff Collapse Reminds Us of the Natural and Inevitable Erosion of Sunset Cliffs

by on February 7, 2017 · 2 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Life Events, Ocean Beach

All photos by Frank Gormlie

Sections of the bluff along Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach collapsed January 28th, right after heavy rains. First reported by Delinda Lombardo in the San Diego Reader, the collapse affected two properties, 5107 Narragansett Avenue – the Pelican Point apartment complex, and the property just to its south, 1783–1787 Ocean Front Street.

None of the units on the properties were directly affected, but the cliff gave way under patios on the first floor at the Pelican Point. Lombardo reported, “Though there was no reported damage to the structure itself, the seawall located below the property is crushed.”

Even though some tenants still live there, it has not been determined just how safe they are or how risky the cliff is in its current state. NBC reported that “the apartment manager is still living on the property along with dozens of other tenants.”

Lombardo spoke to one of the residents of Pelican Point who told her that when he went to bed on Friday night – Jan. 27 – the bluff was all good, but,  “When I woke up Saturday morning it was gone,” he said.

After earth, large boulders, wood and debris fell on the rocks and sandstone, property owners covered the exposed cliff flank with blue tarps – which are still there. The lower passage way over the sandstone is now partially blocked by large boulders which makes walking through the area more difficult.

A San Diego City spokesperson told NBC 7, the Parks and Recreation Department is aware of the collapse.

NBC7 spoke to Pat Abbott, a retired San Diego State University Geology Professor, who said the seawall had been breached with a section of it pushed a yard towards the ocean. Abbott was quotes as saying:

“This is a deep seeded movement. We’re not talking about sluffing here, we’re talking about back down in there several feet.”

Reporter Dave Summers said that the geologist “blames last year’s El Nino waves combined with this year’s soaking rain for this collapse and other recent ones along the San Diego coast.” Abbott also warned that people should enjoy the ocean and cliff views, as the cliffs won’t “last forever.”

Lombardo opined:

“This is the fourth bluff collapse south of the pier in as many years.”

But, of course, long-time residents can tell you about decades of eroding cliffs and of houses falling apart, and literally hanging over the edge. In fact, the house that the “father of OB”, Charlie Collier, built – the “Alligator House” – was lost to erosion and the cliffs.

Needle’s Eye – back when.

This is what cliffs do – they erode. The cliffs and the rocks around them have been changing all the time. And it is only hapless humans who attempt to stop this natural process. Some say the efforts to halt the gradual slides of dirt and rock only hasten or delay the inevitable.

Back in the 1970’s as developers built large apartment buildings closer and closer to the edge, an energetic OB activist group tried to warn developers and the city. OB Ecology Action would stage pickets and protests to bring the community’s attention to what the developers were doing, warning all of the dangers of the naturally-eroding and beautiful Sunset Cliffs.

News sources:


San Diego Reader

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Blackwood February 7, 2017 at 7:25 pm

thats right: we tried to tell em: but they wouldn’t listen! All that rip rap boulder sea wall Humpty Trumpty wanna be’s- slip into the sea: see!


Judy Swink February 11, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Good article and I love the postcard of Needle Rock, but I think Pat Abbot said “…deep-seated movement” rather than “deep seeded”. Spellcheck strikes again?


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