Boerner Horvath’s Bill to Fund Research into Bluff Collapse Early Warning System Passes Assembly Natural Resources Committee

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

SACRAMENTO — Today, AB 66, Assemblymember Boerner Horvath’s bill to allocate $2.5 million to accelerate the science behind bluff failures and start the development of an early warning notification system for California’s coastal bluff collapses, passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on an 8-1 vote.

With fatalities, injuries, and millions of dollars in property damage just in the last few years, bluff failures are a constant threat to beachgoers and coastal neighborhoods throughout California. The worst impacts of these collapses, especially the loss of life, could be avoided with a bluff collapse early warning notification system. AB 66 would task the Scripps Institution of Oceanography with creating the science on when and why bluffs fail, as well as develop how to better predict bluff failures to increase public safety.

“What happened to the three women in 2019 in Leucadia and, tragically, to other valued members of our communities up and down the state, is unacceptable and we must use science and data-driven innovation to keep our communities safer,” said Assemblymember Boerner Horvath. “Fortunately, we have a great partner in our backyard with Scripps and while AB 66 focuses on the area from Torrey Pines to Oceanside, the information we will gather will be invaluable for our state.”

In August of 2019, Anne Clave, Julie Davis, and Elizabeth Cox tragically passed away after a 30-by-25 heavy sandstone chunk broke loose and fell onto the three women who were sunbathing at Grandview Beach in Encinitas. In February of that same year, a San Francisco woman was fatally trapped after a similar collapse occurred at Fort Funston, burying her under tons of dirt.

“This bill can significantly advance research on the dynamics of cliff collapse along California's coastlines,” said Mark Zumberge, a Research Geophysicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “With funding from this bill we would aim to gain a better understanding of the processes leading up to cliff failures . . . our goal is to learn how deformations are impacted by tides, large surf, groundwater, and rainfall to see if we can answer the question of whether signals exist that can forecast where and when an increased risk for collapse is developing.”

Actively eroding cliffs, which make up the majority of the state’s coastline, also threaten billions in development in the form of houses, highways, military bases, universities, nuclear power plants, and other critical infrastructure. As recently as this month, bluff collapses in a particularly vulnerable portion of the coast in Del Mar narrowed the cliff to within 35 feet of the railroad tracks that connect the San Diego region to the remainder of the state, placing the second busiest commercial rail corridor in the country yet again in jeopardy of being severed.

“We know a lot about long-term trends, including cliff retreat and what can make them collapse,” said Dwight Worden, Deputy Mayor of the City of Del Mar. “What we don’t know is what’s likely to come down now — we can’t tell you if it’s safe to lay your towel on the beach in this location, and this is a huge issue for local cities. This bill will provide critical funds to take us to the next step towards saving lives, and there is no one better to do that than the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.”

As with many other environmental threats, the problem is only made worse by climate change and ensuing sea-level rise. U.S. Geological Service scientists have forecasted that coastal cliffs in Southern California could crumble at more than twice the historical rate by 2100 if the current pace of annual shoreline rise continues unabated.  

The increased scientific understanding of the processes of bluff failures that AB 66 funding makes possible will empower California to take action in combatting this threat and building a safer, more resilient future for coastal communities.

The bill will be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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