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12 • 19 • 2022

Surfrider Voices Concerns Over Proposed Development on Erosive San Clemente Coastal Bluff

By Staley Prom

About a quarter mile from one of Southern California’s popular surf spots – “T-Street” in San Clemente - sits one of the last undeveloped areas in this part of the coast. It’s known as “Boca Bluffs”. In the 1960s, two homes on the property were destroyed in a landslide, and haven’t been rebuilt since. Instead, the bluffs have provided ocean views and a popular access to the beach and a coastal pedestrian trail below.  

However, a developer has sought approval to construct seven blufftop homes overlooking the ocean in this active landslide area. In November, the City of San Clemente issued a notice of preparation of an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). On December 15, Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of its O.C. Chapter, submitted scoping comments, raising concerns and issues to be considered and analyzed in the environmental review process. Concerns include siting new development on an already unstable blufftop, in an area that’s already threatened by sea level rise and coastal erosion. The California Coastal Act prohibits new development that will result in geologic instability or rely on shoreline armoring that substantially alters natural landforms along bluffs and cliffs. It also requires that projects minimize risk to life and property in areas of high geologic and flood hazard. The proposed project is particularly concerning given it would sit directly adjacent to a coastal railroad already threatened by sea level rise and erosion, raising transportation and passenger safety concerns. Surfrider also voiced concerns over the proposed development’s potential impacts on beach access, as the property has been subject to substantial use for the past several decades as a means of reaching the coast, and the developer has requested the city vacate an existing public driveway at the property. In 2006, the California Coastal Commission recommended the denial of a similar proposed development at this location, in part due to adverse public access impacts and visual impacts; however, in that case, it was just one – not seven – homes proposed. 

Surfrider’s comments to the city of San Clemente underscored that the permitting decisions we make today will impact the coast for generations to come; and considering sea level rise, increasing pressures on coastal access, and how few remaining open spaces and ocean vistas there are in San Clemente, this development would come at a great detriment to the City and coastline.  

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the City is now required to prepare an Environmental Impact Report identifying all of the project’s significant impacts on the environment, mitigation measures to minimize impacts, and reasonable alternatives to the project. Public agencies should not approve projects if there are feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures available which would substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of such projects. Surfrider will continue to engage in the public review process and advocate for sound coastal management at this location.