By Matthew Bain
Kristin Brinner doesn’t hesitate to say she and her husband moved to Solana Beach because they loved its surfing resources.
And she says she’s not alone, that there are many more who call Solana Beach home mainly so they can be minutes away from its waves — waves that Brinner and some of her surf-loving neighbors fear could be wiped out in coming years.
On Oct. 14, Solana Beach City Council approved a beach replenishment project that will widen the city’s shoreline by 150 feet over the next 50 years by adding more than a million cubic yards of sand to the existing beaches.
There’s precedent of replenishment projects tampering with surf conditions, Brinner said, especially with the 2012 SANDAG project in Imperial Beach, which also caused flooding to coastal properties.
Brinner, a volunteer with the nonprofit San Diego County Surfrider Foundation, doesn’t want a repeat of Imperial Beach in her hometown.
“Everyone loves their surf spots in Solana Beach,” she said. “Surfing is such a local activity and so there are people, my husband included, that are passionate about (it).”
The project’s basics
The project is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ creation that’s been in the works for 15 years. It will also widen beaches in Encinitas, and its main goal is to beef up the cities’ shorelines to reduce coastal storm damages, improve public safety and reduce coastal erosion and shoreline narrowing, according to the Army Corps’ report.
The report notes that 700,000 cubic yards of off-shore sand will be dredged up and deposited along 7,200 feet of Solana Beach shoreline in about two years. That initial deposit will be followed by an additional 290,000 cubic yards every decade for 50 years.
The project will cost nearly $165 million, with the federal government shouldering $87 million of that, according to the report.
Solana Beach Mayor David Zito said the Army Corps will monitor conditions — including surfing conditions — for at least two years after that first deposit and make adjustments if necessary at the 10-year mark.
“The good thing about our project is it’s actually the first shoreline project in the nation that the Army Corps has done which includes adaptive measures,” Zito said.
Potential effect on surfing
Zito said surfing was a key concern when the city council discussed approving the project. But council members weren’t seriously worried surfing resources would be affected, Zito said, and if there were any effects, they’d be temporary.
“Sand is not permanent,” he said. “The sand’s going to go eventually. So even if there are some short-term surfing impacts, which we would all seriously regret, they will potentially go away because the sand’s going to move to other places.”
Solana Beach had 146,000 cubic yards of sand added in a 2001 beach replenishment project, and in the same 2012 project that affected Imperial Beach, it only received 140,000 cubic yards.
The drastic increase to 700,000 is a major point of concern for Brinner, who is also the co-chair of San Diego County Surfrider’s Beach Preservation Committee.
“It’s so far above the natural volume of sand that makes it to the beach and it’s so far above any sand replenishment project that’s been done to date that I think we’re pretty confident that it would destroy the reef breaks,” Brinner said. “Because it would totally cover them up.”
Reef breaks are a surfer’s lifeblood, responsible for creating the iconic rolling surf waves of Southern California. Reefs obstruct waves before they get to shore, forcing the water to roll for a while before eventually crashing on the sand.
In its report, the Army Corps acknowledges this project could make two popular Solana Beach surf spots — Pillbox and South Side — become more like beach breaks.
Beach breaks are often short-lived and close to shore, and they aren’t as alluring to savvy surfers.
“I think in some parts of the report they’re like, ‘Well reef breaks will be converted to beach breaks and they’ll be fine.’” Brinner said. “No. … The people that live here, they surf all their lives, and they’re passionate and good surfers, and they want their good quality reef breaks.”
Private vs. public resources
Julia Chunn-Heer, policy manager for San Diego County Surfrider, said she understands the city’s beaches need to be replenished and get much wider. But she’d rather the project more closely mimic nature, with smaller doses of sand added to the shoreline more gradually.
She said the project reflects how the city council prioritizes protection for private coastal property over surfing resources.
“(Surfing) is what we’re known for,” Chunn-Heer said. “This is why people pay top dollar to live here and why we’re a tourist destination. We have some of the best waves in the county, and I don’t think they want to be responsible for ruining them.”
Zito disagreed, saying the project does protect public resources, including beach access points.
“We have three sets of stairs (to beaches) and a ramp at Pillbox, and if we don’t protect those infrastructure assets, they might go away, as well,” he said. “If you have good surf but no way to get there, I’m not sure how valuable that is either, because we can’t afford to reconstruct these public assets.”
Surfing and the economy in Solana Beach
The Army Corps report estimates this project will add an extra $1.3 million of revenue to Solana Beach every year. That amount was estimated based on assets like recreational benefits, or “towel space” at the wider beaches.
Brinner worries the city council spent too much time considering towel space and forgot to factor “surfonomics” into its decision to approve the project. Surfonomics is a term coined by Chad Nelsen, Surfrider’s national CEO, to describe surfing’s economic impact on a region.
Nelsen conducted a study in 2012 to determine how much money the surf spot Trestles brought in for the city of San Clemente. He estimated 330,000 annual visitors came to San Clemente for Trestles, bringing $8-13 million along with them to spend at local restaurants, gas stations and shops.
Brinner doesn’t have any specific numbers to support her claim, but she said many in the city’s surfing community — including she and her husband — moved to Solana Beach largely for its surf.
“People come here to surf, people move here, buy houses here to surf and that is an important economic resource as well,” she said.