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San Clemente approves $2M North Beach emergency project to replace sand lost to erosion

North Beach in San Clemente where sand has substantially eroded, prompting city officials to declare an emergency.

Posted on June 25, 2024

A vanishing coastline in San Clemente has prompted city officials to declare another emergency along its battered beaches.

Much of the amenities that make North Beach an idyllic summertime retreat — fire rings, swing sets, concrete picnic tables — are now threatened by creeping erosion that provides little to no sand buffer against relentless wave attacks.

Steep staircases leading to the beach at Diji Court and El Portal have been deemed unsafe due to lack of sand. Some fire rings have been swept into the ocean.

Retreating sands have also made it impossible for emergency response vehicles to access North Beach during high tide. A devastating landslide in January thwarted an alternate emergency route through the city’s coastal trail with bridge segments having been removed in repairs.

The lack of reliable entry points has raised concerns among city officials about serious safety risks posed by inaction.

“North Beach has been ignored for far too long by the city,” San Clemente Councilman Chris Duncan told TimesOC. “It’s a shame because North Beach has traditionally been the entrance point for San Clemente.”

Access stairs are closed at North Beach in San Clemente.

On Tuesday, San Clemente City Council considered an emergency declaration for sand-starved North Beach and the $2-million sand dumping project it would fast-track.

“If you’ve been to North Beach lately, you will see that the beach is in pretty dire straits,” Leslea Meyerhoff, San Clemente’s coastal administrator, told council members. “There’s very little sand except for at the very back of the beach. The concession stand and restrooms are being undermined by a direct wave energy. All the facilities are at risk.”

The beach town issued a report on erosion “hot spots” last year and deemed North Beach “threatened” but with a high risk of infrastructure damage.

Meyerhoff, whose position was created, in part, to lead beach restoration efforts, called on the City Council to declare the emergency and approve the sand project, which, she claimed would also help protect the train tracks nearby.

San Clemente solicited bids earlier this month and recommended GCI Construction for the job.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council members voted unanimously to award the local company with the $1.7-million contract.

Expected to take 90 days to complete, the project entails trucks hauling 30,000 cubic yards of sand from a Santa Ana River stockpile site and dumping it along a 1,500-foot stretch of North Beach.

Sand dumping will start no sooner than July 8 and be carried out through peak summer tourist season but with only a Monday through Thursday workweek, leaving weekends free for recreation.

The city has already obtained two of four permits needed to carry out the work, with permits from the county and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority in process.

San Clemente will allocate roughly $500,000 from unassigned general fund revenue to help cover costs. In addition, $750,000 will be transferred from a sand replenishment project overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the North Beach effort overlaps in one stretch of the beach.

Other funds are set to be diverted from North Beach improvements as well as an Avenida Victoria street widening project.

A swing set and on-duty lifeguard are shown at North Beach in San Clemente on June 18, 2024. Sand on the beach has eroded to extreme low levels along the stretch of beach.

Now approved, North Beach will be the second sand replenishment effort in San Clemente so far this year.

Kicking off Memorial Day weekend, the city celebrated the partial completion of a much larger federally supported beach nourishment project near its pier.

The effort initially suffered a months-long setback after the original dredge site near Oceanside pumped cobble-strewn sediment onto the beach. A new dredge site in north Orange County allowed the project to continue with beach-quality sand.

Similar concerns arose during discussion of the North Beach project.

“We’ve had this issue in the past,” Councilman Mark Enmeier told Meyerhoff during the meeting. “What are we doing to make sure that we’re getting actual sand and not rocks?”

Meyerhoff brought bags of the type of sand that will be dumped on North Beach for council members to inspect.

“What you see in that bag is pretty representative of what we will be expecting to receive on the beach,” she said. “[It’s] mostly very perfect beach sand with a few little gravels … because it’s coming from eroded mountains through the river channel.”

Lois McNiccol, a San Clemente resident, got an earlier glimpse of the sand during a meeting with North Beach residents before attending Tuesday’s council meeting.

A mural at North Beach in San Clemente.

She remained unconvinced.

“It simply does not feel like beach sand,” McNiccol told council members. “We need to be thinking about retaining the sand on the beach and growing sand on the beach. That’s the way we have to start thinking, instead of spending millions of dollars to just put sand out there.”

After the meeting, Councilman Duncan noted key differences between North Beach sand dumping and the federally supported pier area dredging project, including real-time monitoring of sand quality.

That gave him the confidence to vote for the emergency declaration and the contract.

“Our goal is nothing short of bringing North Beach back to its deserved prior glory as a beautiful beachfront area to recreate,” he said. “We won’t stop until we accomplish that. This is the first step.”


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