San Diego

String of Bluff Collapses in Del Mar Has Residents On Edge

A geologist told NBC 7 that bluff collapses can happen at virtually any time

Three bluff collapse incidents in Del Mar in the last month and a half, all within three blocks of each other, have people worried about when it will happen next.

Friday’s collapse happened just after noon in the area south of 10th Street. The two other recent incidents happened on 9th and 11th Streets.

Geologist Dr. Pat Abbot told NBC 7 that collapses like those three can happen at virtually any time, saying all it takes is a little bit of weight.

“This one is ready to go,” Abbot said examining a crack along the bluff. “If we got a few dozen people here together and coordinated our jump and jumped up and down on it, we could make this go right now. It's that weak."

And as Abbot spoke, dozens of people walked in and out of the flat ground atop the unstable cliff that was marked off to pedestrians.

With weight being a factor, people in Del Mar are ultra-concerned about the railroad track that runs along the cliffs. They’re also unsettled by the recent collapses happening just before the rainy season hits. Abbot says weather can be a factor, too.

“The sand is so soft, it squeezes and breaks, very, very readily,” Abbot said. “The rain right here weakens the rocks. People water their yards. The train goes by, it vibrates."

He says the only way the tracks can stay along the cliff long term is to build a seawall at the base of the cliff, and that’s something that Abbot, and plenty of other San Diegans, think won’t fly in Del Mar.

Another factor, according to Abbot, is non-native plants ice plants meant to slow down erosion that are in fact worsening the danger.

"What does the weight on all of these plants on this steep cliff do. The more weight you add to the cliff, the more likely it is to fail. Having these things grow here is promoting cliff failure,” he said.

Abbot offered a suggestion to beachgoers to stay safe: “Look up before you sit down.”

The North County Transit District told NBC 7 after a recent collapse that it was working with SANDAG on a project to move the tracks underground, but that would cost billions of dollars and the project remains unfunded.

The NCTD says it also plans to put up fencing to improve safety near the tracks. They say the fencing would lessen foot traffic and help stabilize the bluff.

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