Did Pickleweed Commit Murder?

by on February 2, 2021 · 0 comments

in Environment, History, Ocean Beach

By Kathy Blavatt

The question on everyone’s mind is, “Did the Pickleweed commit murder?”

A gang of suspects covered in green waited until just the right moment to tumble the cliff on three innocent people below.

The January 2020 San Diego Reader cover read “Beach Erosion, Can it Be Stopped?” and laid out the case of possible perps that lead investigators to the culprit being Pickleweed!

Is Pickleweed getting a bum rap, or are they a dangerous plant? The court will soon decide.

Excerpt: January 13, 2020, San Diego Reader – “Will sand save San Diego North County’s bluffs?”: On August 2, 2019, a 30-foot-wide chunk of sandstone came loose at Grandview Surf Beach in Encinitas, beneath a condo development. It fell onto three women, two of them locals, whose children and spouses sat nearby. The three women died. A lawsuit filed by the surviving families calls the poorly maintained bluff “an unnatural, unstable, and unsafe urbanized cliff.”

The defendants are the state of California, the city of Encinitas, and the Leucadia-Sea bluff Village Community Association, a 255-unit condo complex. The plaintiffs allege that “this was not a random act of nature.” “Manmade changes” are the main culprits; one in particular is the “growth and proliferation of invasive, nonnative, heavy, water-laden ice plants,” which destabilize cliffs.

San Diego’s North County has miles of beaches below cliffs and Pickleweed. ©Photo by Kathy Blavatt

According to California law, the state and coastal cities are immune from “all liability,” because when the government insures “open access to beaches,” users must “assume the risk of injury.” In other words, you’re liable if you picnic at the base of a cliff; a few signs at access points state the warning. Since all agree that “bluff erosion leads to bluff failures” implicitly, the Grandview case hinges on the degree to which the condo development “exacerbated” that failure.

The article brought back a flood of my childhood memories of Encinitas and Solana Beach’s beaches and cliffs.

My family lived in Solana Beach for several years while my parents searched for a lot in Point Loma to buy. The North County cliffs beaches are similar to Sunset Cliffs area where my parents built their home.

One of my favorite memories of the Solana Beach cliffs is of a gladiola flower farm located on a bluff above the cliffs towards the south of Solana Beach. The colorful stocks of gladiolas against the blue ocean and sky were a magical vision that sticks in my mind from childhood.

Another favorite of my memories was getting up early in the morning during low tides and hiking with my dad along the beach below the cliffs from Fletcher Cove to Table Tops. At Table Tops, we would go tide pooling. Once, we saw a cute baby sea lion playing in the tide pools and on the sand.

We made sure to head back home before the tide came in. Even as a child, I learned to respect the ocean and cliffs.

Sadly, I saw firsthand the danger of cliffs breaking away.

One time while walking along the top of the cliffs through empty lots near the gladiola farm, I heard loud shouting. I walked over and saw a boy digging furiously. Soon a rescue crew showed up and started digging. As it turned out earlier, the cliffside had tumbled down on top of one of the boys playing there. They had been digging in the cliffside. It broke away, piling large chunks of rock and sand on top of the kid. Sadly, I don’t think the boy survived.

The harsh reality of the fragility of cliffs, and life, had taught me a serious lesson.

Pickleweed seen in 700 Block of Sunset Cliffs ©Photo by Kathy Blavatt

The cliffs directly across the street have had very little erosion compared to other parts of the cliffs.

Pickleweed is in the ice plant family and needs little water much of the year. Its roots stay close to the surface, and it holds water in its sliced pickle looking leaves. When areas die, you simply cut off healthy parts from another area and plug them into the ground water a little, and they will usually grow. Also, the backyard has low water plants.

The cliff erosion in front of my family’s home has been very little compared to other properties along the cliffs. I believe yards with low-water plants and Pickleweed near cliffs is a good idea.

Building further away from the cliffs, smaller hard-structure footprints, and low water landscape can benefit the cliffs’ longevity across the street.

Purple Status and Pickleweed was originally planted at Spalding’s Sunset Cliff Park in the early 1900s. ©Photo by Kathy Blavatt

When it comes to the causes of cliff erosion, there are a multitude of factors. The San Diego Reader article did a good job covering many of them.

How the city of Encinitas, and the Leucadia-Sea Bluff Village court case rules in its verdict will be interesting. Is the Pickleweed the main cause for the cliff to erosion? Are there other factors? Who is responsible for cliff erosion? The answers to all these questions will be interesting. It may set some future precedence.

The planting of Pickleweed as erosion control is not a black or white issue.

My family’s home on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. has had Pickleweed in the front yard for over 50 years.

The planting of Pickleweed along the San Diego coastline goes back over a century. The Point Loma Theosophist at Lomaland planted Pickleweed on the peninsula in the early 1900s.

Planting Pickleweed is a not black and white issue. There are many positives to planting Pickleweed if it is done right.

Pickleweed and other ice plant tolerates salty conditions, and the coastal climate with its fog and humidity help sustain the plants.

Benefits from generations of Pickleweed plants can be seen in Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in areas that keep out foot traffic, mounds that haven’t eroded, and the flowering plants have added beautification in areas that little else will grow without watering.

Findings show seawalls and other bluff protection fail over time. © OB Photo by Kathy Blavatt

A couple of the cons of Pickleweed are that it can get heavy when overwatered and cause damage to unsturdy structures and cliffsides.

The plants’ weight keeps other plants from growing, which can be bad if you want other plants to grow, but good at alleviating weeds.

Pickleweed has been the hero in saving several southern California homes. Because of its high water content, homes with Pickleweed yard survived while the surrounding homes burned down! Incredible press photos show signal homes with the Pickleweed yards standing alone after large fires.

Some cities have incorporated Pickleweed into their public spaces and parks because of its attributes.

I hope people can use Pickleweed appropriately and keep this important plant in our landscapes.

Scooter by O.B. Lifeguard Station . © Photo by Kathy

In Ocean Beach, we recently had another plant problem – rebellious kelp and seagrass attacked scooters! They will probably blame the “King Tide” and large storm waves! Or maybe it is payback for all the scooters tossed into the ocean? Nature has its own way of doing things!

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