By Henry Abarbanel
On Jan. 17, 1983, Beth and I drove here from Berkeley to take up residence in our present home. As we were “deep” Californians we sent our furniture by van but personally transported our precious wine and trees in a trailer down I-5. I still recall the radio station from “Fresberg” (Fresno, I think) all the way down that long road.
That winter we made two remarkably wrong assumptions associated with the beach and the weather. It was the remarkably strong El Niño of 82/83 when the San Dieguito River was so swollen that people reported cows (I think deceased) floating downstream by the Jimmy Durante Bridge. I personally did not see any cows, floating or standing, but I did witness the steady destruction of the road by Torrey Pines beach by steady, heavy wave action. That resulted in my first error: I assumed each winter was like that and even living on Crest was a temporary residence while waves ate steadily away at the bluffs. They are eating away still, but I have since concluded we might be safe.
Crest Canyon Preserve, just east of us, had been recently purchased by the cities of Del Mar and San Diego, and the next year a major drainage project was undertaken by those entities to provide conduits under the surface to assure that water did not erode away the park area of the canyon. The canyon was essentially denuded on the valley floor with trucks carrying unknown (to me) material back and forth and large pipes being placed in the ground. The canyon recovered more or less completely within two years, and the drainage has indeed avoided serious erosion and protected our preserve.
The other wrong assumption came from regarding as permanent, the many porches and rip rap installations projecting out into what appeared to be the public beach. We took for granted that they were there forever with no recourse in taking back our beach. We simply walked around them and wondered who had placed them in our path. We were wrong, of course, in thinking they were permanent. Others who had been here longer than we, at that time nearly everyone, came up with the Beach Preservation Initiative about 1987 or 1988 which, if passed by the voters, would require the removal of such impediments to public use of the public beach. I recall going to a lot of meetings, somehow always on Santa Fe, where we discussed all this without my totally understanding all the issues, yet knowing the goal was clear. Perhaps no one understood all the issues, as it turned out, but all were clear on the goal: return the public beach to the public. Indeed, it was done. In a 2/1 vote, the BPI passed.
Many resisted this expression of public will, arguing sometimes in court at some expense to the City, that they were owners of the beach to the “mean high tide line.” When that turned out to be, according to newly found, but obscure maps from the 19th century, under their present houses, much of the opposition disappeared, and in the Winter of 1992 the bulldozers removed those porches and much of the rip rap. The good news for the affected homeowners was that the City initiated installation of serious, well-designed sea walls to protect property and lives.