Featured Image: The reactivation of an ancient landslide at the coastal-bluff community of Cyprus Shore worsened a crack in the parking lot of the neighborhood clubhouse in the fall of 2021. For the past year, the Cyprus Shore Homeowners Association has continued to search for a solution to retain the safety of homes within the private community. Photo: Shawn Raymundo
By C. Jayden Smith
Continued underground movement since the reactivation of an ancient landslide in September 2021 that heightened the cracking underneath four homes within the Cyprus Shore community has pushed neighborhood leaders to desperately clamor for a solution.
Steve Lang, past president of the Cyprus Shore Homeowners Association, told San Clemente Times this past month that his community needed sand at the coastline—as does all of San Clemente.
“It’s not just the fact that we’re not going to be able to go lay on the beach and get a suntan or whatever everybody does at the beach,” he said about the lack of sand. “It’s going to keep causing devastating damage, because it’s a buffer between the ocean and the bluffs, or the hillsides.”
In addition to tropical storms, drying riverbeds, and development contributing to dramatic coastal erosion at the base of the bluff, water found its way underneath the railroad just below the community, further compromising both the tracks and homes at the top of the bluff.
“There’s a clay seam that’s about 50 feet deep, and then (water) soaked under the tracks,” Lang said. “The land above the railroad tracks became a big hard sponge, and it reactivated an ancient landslide that the professionals and geologists claim is at least 10,000 years old.”
Geologists had previously proposed implementing caissons, or retaining columns, to stabilize the foundation of the bluff. A year ago, the Cyprus Shore HOA was looking to apply for a coastal development permit for the work through the California Coastal Commission.
It’s unclear, however, whether such plans are still being considered. Tim Brown, a former San Clemente mayor who’s been assisting the community on the matter, said the Cypress Shore HOA has not updated him on further collaboration with the CCC.
The CCC also has not publicly reviewed or discussed any application relating to caissons from Cyprus Shore.
The overall movement of the area has been closely monitored over the past year by the Orange County Transportation Authority, the City of San Clemente, and the Cyprus Shore community, according to Lang, with each installing inclinometers that measure the angles of a slope with respect to gravity.
Detected shifting led the OCTA Board of Directors earlier this month to initiate a $12 million construction project to try to help stabilize the landslide threatening the tracks—which has been closed to commuter rail service since late September. Lang cited the project as a short-term solution.
More than 20,000 tons of riprap, or large rocks and boulders, have been placed on the coastal side of the tracks over the past year. The latest track work, though, will involve driving large metal anchors into about 700 feet of the slope adjacent to the railroad track to prevent it from pushing the track further toward the coast.
Joseph Street, a California Coastal Commission geologist, said the rocks that have been placed at the site to date have only slowed the movement, and that project officials believe installing rock anchors on the inland side of the track will help to hold back the landslide.
In terms of additional mitigation plans, Street referred to an emergency permit that CCC Executive Director Jack Ainsworth approved in December 2021 for OCTA to place 12,000 pounds of riprap within a 700-foot-long stretch along Cyprus Shore.
“We do have an active (in review) regular coastal development permit application from OCTA that covers the emergency work (riprap placement) that has been done so far,” Street wrote in an email to SC Times late last month.
He also confirmed that OCTA intended to pursue additional stabilization.
To further address the bluff movement, the City of San Clemente has committed funding to emergency sewer pump watch and operation, pump station construction, and to relocating the nearby compromised storm drain system.
On April 5, the City Council approved appropriations that went toward a Pump Station Relocation project estimated to be more than $2.6 million and a Storm Drain Emergency Relocation of $411,000. The council then approved funding for emergency wastewater operations and storm drain relocation costs that totaled more than $450,000 at its July 19 meeting.
Regarding the use of riprap placed against a vulnerable structure on its coastal side to protect from waves eroding the area, the jury is out on whether the method furthers erosion instead of being a positive mitigation tactic.
Street said he did not know whether the theory that riprap worsened beach erosion was true, given the lack of empirical evidence.
“What it’s absolutely doing, especially the rock that’s been placed on an emergency basis—and there’s a lot of it now—it’s taking up beach area,” he said. “It’s literally sitting on the beach. So, now even at low tide, I don’t think you can walk down the beach past the riprap to (Trestles Beach).”
Even with the existence of riprap at the bluff’s base, residents such as Lang desire to see beach sand replenishment spread up and down the city’s shoreline, as a last defense against further coastal encroachment.
C. Jayden Smith
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.