By Katrina Foley
For decades, residents, surfers, and businessowners voiced their concerns for our eroding coastline while political leaders did nothing. This month, we saw the consequences of their inaction when a landslide in San Clemente threatened the safety of residents of four local apartment buildings on Buena Vista.
Unfortunately, this was not the only incident in Orange County. The week prior, the hillside crumbled beneath three homes in the Dover Shores community in Newport Beach.
After personally surveying the damage of the Newport homes, I worked with Board Chairman Donald Wagner, the county team, the Orange County Fire Authority, Assemblymember Diane Dixon and San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan to assess weather-related risks in Orange County and do everything in our power to assist residents in need.
Since the Board of Supervisors passed my resolution to declare a local state of emergency, Gov. Newsom added Orange County to the state’s emergency declaration, and Congressman Mike Levin echoed our call for help and secured the support of President Joe Biden, who added us to the federal state of emergency declaration.
More than $4 million in damages has been officially reported throughout Orange County, but we expect that number to increase, as much of the most significant damage takes more time to calculate.
While we are working diligently to provide support, coastal erosion remains a constant problem, as climate change exacerbates our winter storms. To protect our economy, homes, and way of life, we must start creating long-term, science-based solutions instead of reacting to incidents as they happen.
In September 2022, I held a Sustainability Summit featuring Dr. Brett Sanders, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Irvine. He proposed policies focused on sand replenishment, shoreline stabilization, reducing cliff erosion, and increasing sediment supplies from local creeks and streams. These are just some of the recommendations we must work with scientists and experts to explore.
Within the past couple of years, commuter train service shut down twice because of coastal erosion.
First in September 2021, the tracks near the San Clemente Station abruptly lurched 28 inches toward the ocean as a result of an eroding bluff. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) deposited 18,000 tons of large rocks, or riprap, in the area to delay the inevitable.
One year later in September 2022, commuter train service shut down again, because tracks were dangerously close to falling into the ocean. A $13.7 million railroad stabilization project originally estimated to take 30-45 days is still ongoing due to the winter storms.
The impacted tracks are a part of the Los Angeles-San Diego (LOSSAN) Corridor, the second-busiest corridor of its type in the country that annually transports more than 8.3 million passengers and moves more than $1 billion in goods.
This section is designated by the Department of Defense as a national defense rail corridor due to its proximity to Camp Pendleton and the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Diego.
On the heels of my numerous calls for further rail planning and sand replenishment, the OCTA Board unanimously approved two feasibility studies on potential relocation of the railroad and impacts of coastal erosion.
I’m also working with Levin to replenish the beaches of South Orange County that border the LOSSAN Rail Corridor. These studies and concurrent sand replenishment efforts are necessary steps toward identifying and implementing long-term solutions to stabilize our shoreline.
We’re already paying the price for decades of inaction. Giant boulders now occupy the spaces where surfers accessed the water, and residents and tourists previously enjoyed sandy beaches, and which also served to protect our railroad corridor.
These fleeting solutions destabilize our homes, economy, national security, and way of life. We must take action with urgency.
Elected in 2022, Katrina Foley represents the Fifth Supervisorial District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. She was previously elected to serve the Second District from 2021-2022.