If we needed a reminder about the instability of the California coastline and the potential for danger, we needed only to look south on Friday. A cliff collapsed in the San Diego County town of Encinitas, killing three people in the rubble that fell onto the beach below.

It’s an increasingly common and frightening occurrence.

Earlier this year, two women and their dog were briefly buried in a similar collapse at Fort Funston in San Francisco. Two years ago, a woman standing too close to the edge of the bluffs in Santa Cruz County fell when the ground beneath her gave way. She died on the way to the hospital. Similar reports can be found up and down the California coast and there will be more of them as erosion becomes an increasing problem amid climate change and sea level rise.

A recent U.S. Geological Survey report suggests sea cliffs, like the ones that feature in most of the Instagram photos of the Coastside, will recede at an alarming rate. In Southern California, the report says the cliffs will fall away by 19 to 41 meters by the year 2100. When coupled with rising ocean waters, the erosion in Southern California is a full-blown crisis. A new government computer model known as “Coastal Storm Modeling System — Coastal One-line Assimilated Simulation Tool” predicts that as much as two-thirds of the region’s beaches may simply disappear by the year 2100 amid a sea level rise of 1 to 2 meters.

Forty meters may not seem devastating in relation to the open space you see here, but consider the Coastal Trail, Mirada Road and the crowds of tourists who daily peer over the very edge of our bluffs just to see what is below.

Other than talking of a “planned retreat” from the water and bluffs, local government has a hard time getting its head around this crisis. Like so many of our regional problems — traffic, homelessness, housing — each government unit feels somewhat powerless on its own. And with no accountability, the real work is negligible.

Meanwhile, California crumbles.

“Beaches are perhaps the most iconic feature of California, and the potential for losing this identity is real,” said Sean Vitousek, professor of civil and materials engineering at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and the author of one USGS study called, “Disappearing Beaches: Modeling Shoreline Change in Southern California.”

The California coast we all inherited is shifting underneath our feet. Keep that in mind the next time you take a walk on local blufftops.

Recommended for you

(7) comments


Clay, as this thread has developed, the comments got me to thinking more deeply about the issue of climate change effects – in a way that readers can relate to on a personal level rather than from the 24/7/365 relentless barrage of political propaganda and media hype they are now fed.

You remind readers in the last two sentences that "The California coast we all inherited is shifting underneath our feet." and then admonish them to "Keep that in mind the next time you take a walk on local blufftops."

I moved to El Granada in 1970 and, in fact, HAVE walked those local blufftops many times for almost 50 years! Here is what I have personally observed over almost half a century.

Except for pavement improvements, selective widening and some stoplights, Highway 1 on both sides of the tunnel is still pretty much where and like it was 50 years ago; traffic and weekend gridlock were non-existent!; the airport and Ed Lea's and others’ fields of artichokes, peas and brussels sprouts are still pretty much like they were 50 years ago; The blufftops are still pretty much as they were 50 years ago. Despite numerous slides and patches, Devil's slide still remains much as it was 50 years ago. Erosion of Pacifica's cliffs could be counted on even then to command news media attention after every major winter storm.

Clearly, the geology and landscape of the coastside have changed very little over 50 years.

The reason that not much has changed is because climate change phenomena are slow and long-term. Effects like cliff erosion, earth axis shifts and sea level fluctuations occur over centuries, millennia and eons.

Here is what HAS changed -- by a LOT!

Massive and thoroughly disgusting overdevelopment has changed the coastside’s personality and lifestyle from something uniquely special to just plain "blah"! Nothing special at all anymore! In fact, HMB has become noticeably unfriendly!

From being a sleepy coastal village with numerous small Main Street mom and pop businesses and friendly residents that few people visited -- perpetual summertime fog; no golf course; no Ritz Carlton; no Strawflower Village; no pumpkin festival; no tunnel -- not much of anything – Half Moon Bay and Princeton have been transformed into destination tourist traps visited by hordes of people in their leisure time.

Words can not begin to describe the similarly awful desecration of Pillar Point harbor and Princeton.

Clearly, the massive coastside overdevelopment that took only 50 years is because both the U.S. and worldwide population doubling time is a short 50 to 70 years -- a rough estimate but in the ballpark!

Here's what I foresee for the coastside's next 50 years.

Because climate change effects are long-term, the coastside geology and landscape will still be pretty much the same as they are currently, with about the same rate of erosion as in the past 50 years. Most of Hwy 1 will still follow its current right of way but possibly widened and some sections bypassed.

The REAL change, however, is going to be the societal problems unchecked overdevelopment and population growth bring with them -- because they are short-term effects. All of the problems that the coastside has been isolated from until now are going to rear their ugly heads and become major quality of life issues.

You can bet the farm that quality of life will erode a lot faster than coastal erosion. It's going to be a mess!


Kiosk says, "This is why I am so concerned about all the misguided “climate change” hysteria being recklessly promoted by politicians and their allies while ignoring the real issue: UNCHECKED WORLDWIDE POPULATION GROWTH. THE POLITICIANS’ SILENCE IS DEAFENING."

EXACTLY! This is the key source with all our modern-day issues, and in addition to no limits on human overpopulation, there's also no limits on those people/corporations who look to profit from the issue at the expense of humanity and the planet?

uffish thought

This is so obvious yet so many people refuse to admit it.

For decades now, policies favoring cheap labor have caused ongoing record numbers of people to move to the US and California, and the environment is suffering badly for it. Review readers, you are no conservationist or environmentalist if you think population increases are OK. It's so irresponsible.

Without excessive immigration for the last 5 decades we would have stabilized at a sustainable 250 million. Now we're on track to hit 500 million. Too many people = too many impacts, and generally irreversible. Why keep voting for such insanity via the same old politicians?

BTW, it seems "Smart Growth" i.e. Slow Growth is more of a conservative ideal now than a liberal one.

uffish thought

It's not alarming or even surprising for the bluffs to potentially erode between 19 and 41 meters in 80 years. Choosing an average value of 30 meters erosion, we get 98.4 feet, or 1.2 feet per year.

That's very close to the same erosion rate of 1 foot per year that the Local Coastal Plan predicted 30 years ago.

See? No surprise.


The San Mateo shoreline and all of the California coast has been eroding and crumbling long before I moved to California 50_years ago.

Civilizations have always migrated to higher (or lower) land as sea levels rose (or fell).

Without pointing a finger at this or that science or political agenda, I propose here a neutral solution to what should be done about the problem:


To those who chose to live near or speculate about investing in those areas, I only have one thing to say: TOUGH. YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER!

Next time do your due diligence a lot more thoroughly.

Again, TOUGH!

John Charles Ullom

"Next time do your due diligence a lot more thoroughly.

Again, TOUGH!"

Wow. As if all people moved to endangered areas last year. There are millions of humans whose lives will be uprooted by climate change whose ancestors failed to do their due diligence. There a thousands of Alaskan's who never had a reason to think the permafrost they built on was not in fact perma. There are farmers in the middle of the nation whose great grand parents can't be blamed for filing to do their due diligence.

We live in an increasing cruel society.

Hey kiosk, when the ocean takes Hwy 1 at surfers beach and implodes the local economy and you know it will, will you be brave enough to tell folks we should do nothing per their lack of due diligence? Would you say TOUGH as your property vales tanked?

And should all earthquake strengthening activity be shut down due to the fact we all new about earthquakes in California? Should all fire suppression measures be ended in areas where due diligence tells one that there will be a fire?



I will only reply to your comments – some of which are arguable -- by saying that I am not a cruel heartless person without compassion for persons whose lives have been or will be tragically affected by sea level fluctuations. Since I am an honest person, however, I am still compelled to say “Tough" but in a hopefully, compassionate, caring tone.

Clay: Since the title of this editorial implies that climate change and sea level rise are somehow critically important current issues, let me put things more in perspective.

The most important issue of our lifetime is hardly the devastation caused to, or to be done to, generally affluent coastal areas by sea level fluctuations attributed to the somewhat vague generic term “climate change”. There are currently approximately 7 BILLION persons on our planet, most of whose lives will be only minimally affected.

The far more important issue is, undeniably, UNCHECKED WORLDWIDE POPULATION GROWTH. In fact, unchecked worldwide population growth is the cause of most of the problems attributed to climate change such as air and water pollution, unwanted and lawless mass migration from Third World and impoverished nations to wealthier nations, massive unemployment because of competition for jobs with the increased population, fewer available jobs as smart robots replace humans, flora and fauna species extinction, resources depletion, return of diseases thought to have been eliminated, antibiotic resistant bacteria, fisheries depletion, concerns over food production, etc. These are very real SOCIETAL issues that have little to do with climate change, and the outcomes of which are mathematically predictable.

It's easy to smell a political rat here!

Flooded homes, farms, businesses, retreating glaciers, the poor displaced polar bears, etc. are great emotional issues (Translation: we can make (and raise or tax) a lot of money keeping this stuff alive. Think of the idiot so-called “green new deal”, “we have only 12 years before mankind implodes”, and other political flim-flam). And don't forget all the votes from those poor unfortunates that we've saved!

Lots of unlimited marketing possibilities here!

And we can count on Hollywood to do their share to keep the issue alive, too!

It’s my considered opinion that climate change effects and related sea level rise, although certainly real, are being used more as more of an emotional political scare tactic than any imminent threat to mankind.

The UNSPOKEN imminent threat is the exploding rapid worldwide population to 7, 8, 9, 10, and more, billion persons! Where does it end? The U.S.’ population has doubled in the past 50 years from 150 million to 330 million. At this doubling rate, the population will reach approx. 660 million by 2070, 1.3 BILLION by 2120 and 2.6 BILLION by 2170! Think seriously about what this means for your children, grandchildren and every person living on the planet!!!! And this does not even include the shortening of the doubling time caused by unchecked, unrestricted migration from other countries!

This is why I am so concerned about all the misguided “climate change” hysteria being recklessly promoted by politicians and their allies while ignoring the real issue: UNCHECKED WORLDWIDE POPULATION GROWTH. THE POLITICIANS’ SILENCE IS DEAFENING.

But not to worry. Their legislative lethargy will soon be interrupted by a little thing colloquially called “The Population Bomb”. BOOM!!!!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

More Stories