The city of Oceanside’s leaders believe they will lose coastal property to the sea as waters rise in the coming decades – unless they engineer something to enlarge the city’s beaches.
The city had a plan to install a series of groins or jetties but coastal towns to the south pushed back because they would have lost their own precious sand. Now Oceanside is trying to decide on a new approach – from new futuristic piers, to dunes and peninsulas or artificial reefs.
Dubbed RE:BEACH, this latest approach is set-up like something akin to a beauty pageant.
Three international design teams showcased beach-growing ideas before a standing room-only crowd at Oceanside City Hall last month. A 15-member jury including representatives from its southern coastal neighbor cities vote for the final design. Then, the City Council could pick a winner as early as January 2024.
“Beach space … is absolutely necessary for the survival of the city,” said Jayme Timberlake, the city’s first coastal zone manager dedicated to focusing on the dwindling beach issue.
But whichever project the city chooses still only buys the city a few decades of time. The mounting pressure of sea level rise will eventually be too much for some parts of the modern coastline to bear.
“We need that space now to buffer that time so we can start to figure out what we’re going to do when we don’t have an ability to prevent the ocean from coming in anymore,” she said.
Pitches from each design team were markedly different.
Deltares, a Dutch beach design group, suggested some futuristic-looking piers replete with circular gardens built out into the ocean.
SCAPE, a design team based in San Francisco, offered to bring back a system of natural dunes and peninsulas, which could mean swapping out a park for restored native coastline.
And an Australian team, called International Coastal Management, offered to apply what worked for growing the Gold Coast’s beaches: Sand nourishment combined with artificial reefs that keep sand near the shore.
Oceanside’s in a race against the clock to get something going. It already faces a predicted strong, stormy winter fueled by El Niño. And whatever it builds might again face backlash from its southern neighbors. That’s why Oceanside dropped a proposal to build a series of permanent groins into the ocean from the shore that stop flowing sand.
The beach wasn’t always so narrow.
Historical photos of Oceanside from the 1920s show humans appearing as mere specks dotting a vast stretch of sand that guarded the coastal cliffs from waves. Now, at mid-tide, waves crash against large stone revetments protecting property, leaving would-be beachgoers perched atop boulders.
There’s a host of reasons why the sand is disappearing.
Oceanside’s popular tourist beach called The Strand will start to feel real impacts of sea level rise beginning 2025, according to the city’s coastal hazard vulnerability assessment. Storms that sweep sand from shore are growing equally more intense. And the military complex built north of town in the 1940s prevents sediment from the San Luis Rey river from replenishing the city’s beaches.
As part of a longstanding agreement, the federal government systematically digs sand from the Oceanside harbor and plops it on the city’s shores. But that’s a mere Band-Aid on a much larger wound, growing deeper every year.
Chris Myers, a 40-year Oceanside resident, stood at Buccaneer Beach for a wave check with his buddies on an early September morning. Surfers picked their way along large cobbles, which are rocks deposited by rivers and creeks smoothed by wave action over time.
Myers listened to the beach design competition online and favored ideas that build something on the ocean floor, like an artificial reef, that allows sand to build up over time and protect the shore.
“The surf’s already kind of messed up here right now, some of that’s natural and some of that’s caused by the (beach) erosion,” Myers said. “Putting little reef breaks out there rather than exposed jetties would be great.”
The all-groin or jetties proposal, though eventually punted by the city, was “just a first step,” said Dirk Ackema of Save Oceanside Sand, a group formed around four years ago.
While many local surfers were in favor of that plan, the city of Carlsbad was wholly against it because they viewed those structures as starving their own beach of sand that naturally flows south in prevailing ocean currents.
That fight is what ultimately fueled the current route to find a more regionally-inclusive option that still saves Oceanside’s beach.