West Coast
Surfers head down a path created by erosion below Point Loma Nazarene University in the Hillside Section of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to get to the popular New Break reef break off the southern end of the park. THOMAS MELVILLE/PENINSULA BEACON

CA - COMBATING EROSION AT SUNSET CLIFFS – City designing drainage improvements for the popular park

The long-term goals of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park are embodied in its master plan and vision statement, which calls for the “creation of a park where people can enjoy San Diego’s natural coastal environment as it once was, free from the effects of man and intended to inspire the user to reflect on the grandeur of the sea, and the beauty of the cliffs that are Point Loma.”

To accomplish keeping Sunset Cliffs Natural Park as pristine and natural as possible, these guidelines have been established for the future development of the oceanfront park:

– Do no harm; protect, conserve and enhance;

– Maintain focus on the unique coastal resources;

– Allow public access with minimal environmental impacts;

– Maintain planning integrity/strategy for resource preservation;

– Restore areas of neglect and damage to their previous condition and visual quality.

The Sunset Cliffs Master Plan recommends the implementation of a park protection policy for use in guiding all future proposals that might impact the park. That policy calls for all park natural resources to be protected from obtrusive, unnatural structures, and for native vegetation and wildlife to be protected from surrounding development. Near-shore waters are also to be safeguarded from pollution.

The master plan proposes corrective measures for past and present Sunset Cliffs abuse and neglect that may have degraded the park’s natural beauty. These corrective measures include the removal of man-made elements such as structures, construction debris, and excess pavement, as well as the implementation of a comprehensive on-site drainage system. Along with that has come the eradication of exotic invasive plants, and a re-vegetation program for restoring native vegetation.

Much of that restoration work, including re-introduction of native plants and re-establishment of trails and signs, a bridge, and new benches, has already been accomplished, according to Point Loman Leon Scales.

“The new native plantings, in the Hillside Improvement Project, a portion of the 50-acre Hillside Section below Point Loma Nazarene University and south of Ladera Street, was completed 22 months ago,” said Scales, who has been working with the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Community Recreation Group to help preserve the park.

“It now supports more than 23,000 healthy native plants, the same plants that grew and thrived right there from time immemorial. A restoration contractor will make sure plants are well established by watering and weeding them through their first five years.”

Scales added the re-introduction of native plant species has included more than 20 familiar species of Coastal Sage Scrub and Maritime Succulent Scrub, which cover 10 acres.

“They surround the demonstration garden of native plants established more than 15 years ago and lovingly maintained by David Kimball, who died last year,” said Scales. “David will be fondly remembered for his dedication to the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and the long hours he spent every week in the garden he created.”

A lifelong birder and once president of the San Diego Audubon Society, Kimball, according to Scales, “was inspired to re-establish the native plants in great part by his love of birds, which he found largely missing there.”

Scales added the demonstration garden was an extensive vegetable farm in the days of the Theosophical Society 100 years ago, that was regularly plowed and harvested until the water piped in from Old Town cost more than the vegetables could be sold for. “Since the farm’s abandonment, the area had been taken over by weeds and non-native shrubs and trees,” he said.

“Please visit Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to see both the demonstration garden and the Hillside Improvements Project, which serve as a partial implementation of the native habitat restoration and trails portion of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Master Plan,” said Ann Swanson, chair of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council’s Drainage Improvements Committee.

Designing drainage improvements is next at Sunset Cliffs

Design is underway on a project to provide drainage improvements in Sunset Cliffs Natural Park’s Hillside Section.

The 50-acre Hillside Section is part of the 68-acre resource-based park bordering the western edge of Point Loma. The park extends 1 ½ miles south to the Point Loma Navy Base. Its Hillside Section is a designated multiple species conservation area linking to the 640-acre Point Loma Ecological Reserve beginning at the Navy property.

Hillside drainage improvements will entail evaluation of the drainage within the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and the implementation of a complete drainage system.

“Concentrated and focused drainage resulting in erosion has occurred throughout the park and has resulted in ravines, piping, sinkholes, and the loss of valuable parkland,” said Ann Swanson, chair of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council’s Drainage Improvements Committee. “Erosion and drainage needs in the natural park continue to be major concerns.”

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