Coastal Flooding in Imperial Beach

The surf tripled in size on Saturday March 1st and by the end of the day was breaking out past the Imperial Beach Pier.

The surf tripled in size on Saturday March 1st and by the end of the day was breaking out past the Imperial Beach Pier.

On Saturday March 1, 2014, the surf from an unusual almost Hurricane like storm (in its appearance) battered the coast of Southern California. The surf went from 3-5′ on Saturday morning to more than 10-15′ on Saturday afternoon. High tides and surf that evening resulted in coastal flooding in Imperial Beach and up and down the California coast (especially in the Santa Barbara area).

A satellite image of the unusual storm.

A satellite image of the unusual storm.


Swell forecast for Imperial Beach.

In Imperial Beach this swell combined with high tides to create coastal flooding. Surf topped over the sand berm along the beachfront especially in the Cortez/Descanso area and at the Palm Avenue Jetty. On Saturday afternoon surf broke well past the Imperial Beach Pier and over a mile offshore on distant reefs.


With high surf and high tides on the evening of March 1st, water came over the beach and into Seacoast Drive. Here is the end of Descanso Street the morning of March 2nd.


The end of Seacoast Drive, March 2nd.


The end of Encanto Street on March 2nd.


Ocean Lane just north of Palm Avenune, March 2nd.


Just north of Palm Avenue, March 2nd.


The end of Palm Avenue, March 2nd. Flooding worsened here during the morning high tide of March 2nd.

King Tides and Coastal Flooding in Imperial Beach

Over the past few days in Imperial Beach we’ve had “King Tides” or the highest tides of the year (over 7 feet). The tides caused with larger than average surf (in the 4-8′ range and out of the west) resulted in coastal flooding. The San Diego Union-Tribune  came down to shoot this video and was lucky to have Dr. Bob Guza of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to explain why the flooding was happening. You can see the U-T video here:

Cortez Street end in Imperial Beach on January 29, 2014.

Cortez Street end in Imperial Beach on January 29, 2014.


The end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach on January 29, 2014.


Dr. Robert Guza of Scripps Institution of Oceanography talking to a reporter about coastal flooding and king tides on January 30, 2014.


Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography monitoring conditions in Imperial Beach on January 30, 2014.

Why I Love Imperial Beach: Photo Essay 2


Decoration on Seacoast Drive.


The statue, “Spirit of Imperial Beach” looking east toward Palm Avenue.


Part of the Bibbey’s Shell Shop Mural.


The opening of IB Yoga has been a very positive development for Imperial Beach.


The Plank is an IB landmark.

Local surfer Sean Fowler on the window of the Surf Hut.

Local surfer Sean Fowler on the window of the Surf Hut.

My sons and their surf “grom” friends a few years ago. Growing up surfing in IB is a wonderful experience. There is a tight knit group of kids who have been surfing together since they were about five years old and now compete together in swimming and water polo. All of us surf dads are already preparing for their departure for college and adulthood. We’ll miss them and their infectious energy.


Why I Love Imperial Beach: Photo Essay 1

I’ve lived in Imperial Beach since 1971. It is one of the last cool little blue collar beach towns left in Southern California. And I love the neat little ways in which people brighten up their businesses and our public plazas (courtesy of the Port of San Diego) along the beachfront.  This is what gives our town character and  makes us unique. And it is why  I love my hometown of Imperial Beach.

The Imperial Beach Pier Plaza and a public art project called Surfhenge.

The Imperial Beach Pier Plaza and a public art project called Surfhenge.

Mike Bibbey, the owner of Bibbey's Shell Shop, is awesome--full of energy, passion and creativity.

Mike Bibbey, the owner of Bibbey’s Shell Shop, is awesome–full of energy, passion and creativity.

I am very honored to have helped to provided the information that was used in many of the plaques along the pier. The project honors the history of surfing the Tijuana Sloughs reef.

I am very honored to have helped  provide the information that was used in many of the plaques along the pier. The project honors the history of surfing the Tijuana Sloughs reef.

Bibbey's Shell Shop is an IB landmark and this shark is a favorite photo stop for tourists and locals.

Bibbey’s Shell Shop is an IB landmark and this shark is a favorite photo stop for tourists and locals.



The IB mermaid at Bibbey’s Shell Shop.


I love Bibbey’s because it is community art that makes people happy.


The octopus door at Bibbey’s.


You have to really look close to see all of the details on the mural at Bibbey’s.


A stunning mural on the side of the building that is the location of IB Yoga–which is one of the many cool little businesses that have opened up in town over the past few years. We need more beautiful art like this around town and we need to continue to support local small businesses benefit the community.

My Home: The Tijuana Estuary and River Mouth MPA and Imperial Beach

Thanks to Ralph Lee Hopkins for sharing this amazing photo of the Tijuana Estuary, Tijuana River Mouth MPA, Imperial Beach and South San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge. Ralph is an extraordinary photographer and has done a lot to promote the beauty of Baja California.


Imperial Beach 1989

English: Imperial Beach, California The symbol...

Imperial Beach, California The symbol of this surfers’ community south of San Diego. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imperial Beach Needs to Look Beyond the Beach

July 09, 1989|SERGE DEDINA | Serge Dedina is a lifelong Imperial Beach resident and a member of the city’s beach area and water-oriented facilities advisory committee

‘The budget crisis in Imperial Beach is temporarily over, and plans to disincorporate the city are on hold. City Manager Ron Jack has managed to raise revenues and cut Sheriff’s Department services to balance the budget. What promised to be a fiscal disaster turned into a rather routine budget-cutting operation for a city government that has been strapped financially for most of the 1980s.

The recent problems, however, have opened debate on the future of Imperial Beach and the development strategy that will allow the city to avoid recurring financial crises.

The situation in Imperial Beach is similar to what happens to Third World nations that take out loans to finance large development projects that international experts assure will lead the countries to salvation. If the project is a failure, basic public services are cut to pay off the loans. In the case of Imperial Beach, basic public services have been cut so that the city can pay off the loan to rebuild its fishing pier. However, unlike the Third World, the International Monetary Fund does not bail out small American cities for the bad decisions of their elected officials.

City officials in Imperial Beach historically have complained about their inability to develop a community surrounded by open space–while blaming environmentalists for stalling development projects–without realizing that what has defined the character of Imperial Beach is its open space. Instead of planning a strategy that integrates the natural setting with its small-town character, the city, in effect, has attempted to ruin the two factors that make Imperial Beach unique among Southern California beach communities.

A comprehensive planning study conducted by the Graduate School of Urban Planning at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo concluded that Imperial Beach should not concentrate all its development efforts along the beachfront, which it said has a limited potential for revenue generation. Instead, the city should concentrate on its commercial core along Palm Avenue where there is room for enhancement. The study, financed by a grant from the city, has been ignored by Imperial Beach officials, who keep insisting that the beachfront development is the key to economic revitalization.

There is no indication that officials have learned anything from the recent crisis. City officials want the San Diego Unified Port District to assume control of the oceanfront tidelands to reduce city costs and to speed beachfront development. Mayor Henry Smith envisions an oceanfront marina alongside a mile-long ocean platform for hotels and restaurants in an area in which some of the largest waves in Southern California break during periods of heavy surf. Apparently the loss of almost $1 million during the attempt to construct a submerged breakwater along the beachfront has not deterred the mayor.

A strategy that concentrates on developing publicly owned areas that are open to the forces of nature and protected by state and federal regulations that require lengthy environmental review is bound to fail.

The city has neither the resources to pursue projects that end up in court, as in the case of the breakwater, nor the foresight to reject those projects when they are presented to the council for preliminary review.

English: The pier in Imperial Beach, Southern ...

The pier in Imperial Beach, Southern California. South of San Diego, very close to the Mexican border. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, a strategy that uses the natural setting and community character of the city as its focus should be welcomed. With the population of the South Bay expected to grow by more than 200,000 residents by the year 2010, the city will become a magnet for South Bay residents seeking a well-maintained beachfront removed from the congestion encountered in most Southern California beach communities.

History of Ocean Lifeguards

Lifeguards at the Tijuana Rivermouth, 1950s. Photo: John Elwell.

Lifeguards at the Tijuana Rivermouth, 1950s. Photo: John Elwell.

As a 13-year veteran Ocean Lifeguard for the State of California and
the City of Imperial Beach, I know lifeguards play a critical role in
making sure that our beaches remain as safe as possible for the public.

Mike Martino is part of a group of lifeguards in San Diego County who
work to maintain the highest professional standands for lifeguard
agencies. Additionally, he has played an important role in documenting
the fascinating history of lifeguards in San Diego.

Serge Dedina: I was intrigued by the mention in your book, Lifeguards of San Diego County,
that the earliest reported lifeguards were in China in the early 18th
century. How did early pre-20th century lifeguards operate?

Mike Martino: The early life-saving groups were local. A group
called the Massachusetts Humane Society set up a lifeboat station in
1807. The men who worked the stations were local volunteers and their
rescue efforts dealt with foundering ships. Beach going for recreation
and swimming was still (on a societal level) a 100 years away.

Dempsey, South …Ramos photo

Lifeguard pioneer Dempsey Holder surfing in Imperial Beach. Photo: George Ramos

Serge Dedina: Who were some of the lifeguard pioneers in San Diego County?

Martino: Some local pioneers are George Freeth, Louis Chauvaud, Calvin “Spade” Burns, Charles Hardy and Emil Sigler just to name a few.

Dedina: We take it for granted that very few people drown on
public beaches in the U.S. anymore and especially in Southern
California, but a few cases of mass drownings in San Diego played a key
role in pushing public agencies to form professional lifeguard services.
What was the key tragedy in San Diego that caused a major perception in
understanding the need for lifeguards?

Martino: In San Diego, the major event occurred on May 5, 1918
at Ocean Beach. The surf was running somewhere in the 8-10 foot range,
and a massive rip current swept beach goers off their feet and out into
the swirling currents and surf. When it was all over, 60 plus people had
been rescued and 13 people had drowned.

12-67 small 1st… Gove photo

Imperial Beach Lifeguards surfing the Tijuana Sloughs

Dedina: When and where did professional lifeguard agencies evolve in San Diego County?

Martino: My best guess is that lifeguards were hired by the
local private bath houses somewhere around the early 1900s. Those
private businesses eventually petitioned San Diego City Council for
funds to support lifesaving operations, and then those private/public
relationships morphed into the government-sponsored services. The first
San Diego City Guards were policemen with aquatic skills.

Dedina: Emil Sigler was a legendary City of San Diego
Lifeguard. Who was he and why was so such a seminal figure in the
development of lifeguarding in San Diego?

Martino: I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Emil when I researched my book Lifeguards of San Diego County.
He worked as a seasonal lifeguard and commercial fisherman. Eventually,
he left lifeguarding to fish full-time. Emil was the consummate
waterman. He surfed, dove, fished and dedicated his life to the ocean.
He lived more than 100 years and lived the type of waterman’s life most
of us can only aspire to.


Dempsey Holder fixing an old LIfeguard truck in Imperial Beach as John Elwell looks on. Photo: Courtesy John Elwell

Dedina: Why and when did you become a professional lifeguard?

Martino: I became a seasonal lifeguard in 1986, and I did it
because my best friend had been a state lifeguard and encouraged me to
join. Early on, I did it to earn money for college, and then eventually
pursued it as a career.

Dedina: Why do we need lifeguards to safeguard our beaches and water bodies?

Lifeguard jumping into action in Ocean City, M...

Lifeguard jumping into action in Ocean City, Maryland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martino: Beach lifeguards—the people you see in the towers—are
the first line of defense against drowning. Good lifeguards intimately
know the stretches of beach and bodies of water they are assigned to
protect. They provide your family with valuable information and safety
advice, and then when things go bad, they come out and rescue you.

Dedina: Today, there are lifeguard agencies charged with
patrolling beaches from Oceanside to the Mexican border. What type of
physical skills and ocean knowledge does it take to become a lifeguard
and remain a professional lifeguard?

Lifeguard Tower in Ocean Beach, California

Lifeguard Tower in Ocean Beach, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martino: Lifeguards have to be comfortable in their own mind.
Your stimulus has to be internal, not external; 95 percent of the time,
we’re just watching. When the time comes to perform, a lifeguard has to
be physically fit and calm under pressure. I tell my young staff all the
time, this is the closest job you can find to being a super hero.

Dedina: Are there estimates for the annual number of rescues
and assists carried out annually in San Diego County by lifeguard
agencies? What else to lifeguards do besides rescue swimmers in

English: View looking north-west across Moonli...

English: View looking north-west across Moonlight State Beach, Encinitas, California from behind the lifeguard station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martino: With all the agencies combined throughout the county,
10,000 rescues and assists is a good base number. Over that number and
it is a busy year. Under that number and it is a slower year. We also
reunite thousands of lost children with their parents, perform first
aid, patrol on rescue boats and perform cliff rescues. In the case where
I work, our permanent staff are state peace officers with full police
powers, so we make arrests too.

Dedina: What prompted the formation of the SDR Alert or San
Diego Regional Aquatic Lifesaving Emergency Response Task Force and what
is its purpose?

Martino: On August 25, 2003 a helicopter crashed off the shore
of Moonlight Beach. Lifeguards from throughout the county were used for
the search and recovery, and the logistics and resources needed far
exceeded what any one agency could provide. So after that event all the
lifeguard chiefs got together to form a group that pools our resources
and skills. At least once a year, all the agencies get together and
train for a mass casualty/rescue and recovery drill. Most recently, we
worked with the airport to train for a plane crashing in the water.

Southern Cal Junior Lifeguard Competition

Southern Cal Junior Lifeguard Competition

Dedina: What is it about lifeguarding that is so rewarding?

Martino: Lifeguarding is a career I have never regretted
choosing. There is always something to be done. Training to accomplish,
equipment to master, people to help. It’s a public service career I am
proud to be a part of.

Imperial Beach at a Crossroads

Note: I first published my first op-ed  about Imperial Beach and its contentious politics in the Los Angeles Times about 25 years ago. I wrote this recent piece that was published in Imperial Beach Patch after being dsmayed by the anti-community sentiment and policies (that are often very environmentally destructive)  enacted by City Hall.

English: Imperial Beach, California The symbol...

English: Imperial Beach, California The symbol of this surfers’ community south of San Diego. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the recent effort by the City of Imperial Beach to give up management of its Sports Park complex that includes a skate park and hallowed Little League fields that have nurtured thousands of Imperial Beach children over the past 50 years, the tolerance of residents for the inexpert way the city and especially Mayor Jim Janney, manage civic affairs, has officially ended.

At a March 20City Council meeting, more than 140 residents angrily denounced the attempt to turn over ball fields and a free skate park to the South Bay Family YMCA (which unfortunately has been caught in the crossfire).

The City Council wisely delayed the Sports Park and Little League proposal and approved holding a public workshop on the issue on April 11. However, public rancor over the Sports Park is a manifestation of the larger issue of the lack of civic infrastructure and trust in government in Imperial Beach and the urgent need for political reform.

Imperial Beach has always been a rough and tumble town with a long history of contentious politics. But long time observers of City Hall cannot remember a time when our local government has been as out of sync with the community as it is now.

The past six months has been as tumultuous as any in Imperial Beach’s history due to the alienation by the City of just about almost every major constituency group in town. Beachfront property owners and surfers protested the failings of a SANDAG and city beach replenishment project that flooded beachfront residences and ruined surfing conditions.

Business owners were frustrated over the city’s attempt to prevent the installation of new streetlights along Seacoast Drive. Residents throughout Imperial Beach were up in arms over a proposal to charge residents and visitors alike to park in the coastal zone.

English: The pier in Imperial Beach, Southern ...

For longtime residents like me who were raised in Imperial Beach during the 1970s when biker gangs held sway on the old Imperial Beach Pier, our decision to remain and raise our families here has been a good one.

Once you get to know Imperial Beach with its unpretentious and affordable neighborhoods, endless beach with great surf, wildlife filled estuaries, and its diverse and generous residents, you find that it is hard to ever leave.

With beachfront investments made by the Port of San Diego under the leadership of Mayors Mike Bixler and Diane Rose during the 1990s, Imperial Beach is a vastly safer and more visitor-friendly town than it was when I was a kid.

With the upcoming opening of the Pier South Hotel later this year, Imperial Beach will have an opportunity to showcase its new face to tourists that city officials are praying will turn out in droves.

For most Imperial Beach residents however, City Hall, like the DMV, is an institution with an inexplicably inert bureaucracy that is best to be avoided at all costs.

As a result, residents have kept their distance from a local government that provides few services and has slowly dismantled its once robust citizen advisory boards that historically provided a participatory platform for policy making and citizen engagement (I was appointed to the Youth Commission as an 8th grader in 1978 by then Mayor Brian Bilbray). Currently Imperial Beach only has only two citizen advisory boards, unlike neighboring Chula Vista with 22 and Coronado with 15.

Developing a new set of citizen commissions as well as improving government openness, accountability and transparency is the only way out of the current political impasse.

English: Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach

The City of Imperial Beach must reform so that it can be viewed as an honest broker that can help the community develop a vision that is about improving the quality of life for residents throughout the city, rather than only improving the beachfront and filling city coffers.

For the residents of Imperial Beach to prosper, the city must ensure that the community comes first and is not just viewed as an asset to be divested.

Because for the people of Imperial Beach, our children are the city’s greatest resource and its future.

Beaches, Sand and Money

Photo: Chris Patterson

As I watch shorebreak bombs explode at the Quiksilver Pro Francevia webcast, one thing that stands out besides the crazy hollow shorebreak is the brown large grain sand local beaches are made of.

The beaches and sandbars of southwest France, that result some of the world’s best beach breaks for surfing, are filled with large grain brown sand that flows out of the estuaries and rivers of the region.

Because much of the coastal zone along the southwestern coast of France remains free of development, with extensive barrier dunes still in place, the beaches aren’t subject to the same process of erosion as our beaches are (but there is extensive erosion in coastal cities there).

Imperial Beach, Sept. 25th,Photo: Eddie Kisfaludy/Wildcoast

In San Diego in contrast we have channelized and dammed our rivers and thrown up rocks, seawalls and structures along most of our coast.

In short we have done everything possible to obstruct natural sand flow and enhance the non-stop cycle of beach erosion.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the prescription for our own coastal erosion mess in Southern California was for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a historically inept and mismanaged agency, to build large jetties along the shoreline and even more destructive breakwaters.

Photo: Eddie Kisfaludy/Wildcoast

Later the Army Corps carried out massive dredge and fill projects to replace lost sand. In 1977 the Army Corps dumped massive amounts of toxic sediment and sludge from San Diego Bay on the beach in Imperial Beach.

Later the City of Imperial Beach and the Army Corps proposed the construction of a mile-long rock breakwater. Thanks to local surfers and the then fledgling Surfrider Foundation, we stopped that crazy scheme just as the Corps was ready to dump the rocks in the ocean.

More recently the Army Corps in partnership with the City of Imperial Beach, once again dredged the most toxic and  garbage ridden sites in San Diego Bay and dumped the garbage, rocks, and rebar in Imperial Beach along with toxic sediment.

This boy was almost impaled by this piece of metal left on the beach by the Army Corps of Engineers in Imperial Beach. Photo: Daren Johnson

A few years ago WiLDCOAST worked with Senator Tom Coburn and the Obama Administration a few years ago to stop a planed $50 million projectslated for Imperial Beach that proposed dredging an area near a sewage outfall pipe and WWI aerial bombing range. That project involved no public consultation, the involvement of secretive and highly paid sand lobbyists and PR films, millions spent on badly written environmental documents, and no effort to work with the public and or use clean sand.

So dredge and fill projects have largely been a mess in San Diego County. However, of all the projects that have been carried out those managed by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) have been managed in the most sensible way.

The 2001 regional beach replenishment effort by SANDAG resulted in the deposition of clean high quality large grain sand, extensive public consultation, and the involvement of locally-based project managers who work with local stakeholders—something the Army Corps of Engineers has no interest in doing.

On Thursday, SANDAG will finish up its sand replenishment operations for Imperial Beach after having placed more than 300,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach. The project is massive and has been well managed. For many surfers and beachgoers the current sand project has been a field course in coastal geomorphology and engineering.

After finishing in Imperial Beach this week, SANDAG moves the project to Oceanside, Moonlight Beach, Cardiff State Beach, Batiquitos, and North and South Carlsbad. In total SANDAG will place more than 1.4 million cubic yards of sand on county beaches.

Photo Eddie Kisfaludy/Wildcoast

In Imperial Beach the new sand has temporarily wiped out rideable surf over much of the beach (note to surfers—don’t waste your time coming down to IB—the entire beach is a closed out shorebreak), but I expect the sand to level out over the next few months.

As the project moves to Oceanside and the rest of North County, it will be critical for surfers and other stakeholders to monitor the project and evaluate its impacts.

As a surfer, coastal conservationist, and dedicated beachgoer, I know that having a local agency like SANDAG carry out these projects is a million times more preferable to having ecological and economic coastal disasters foisted upon us by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Photo: Chris Patterson

Imperial Beach Sand Project 2012 Day 1

Pipes on the beach for the SANDAG sand project in Imperial Beach.

SANDAG has stared a local sand replenishment projects. WiLDCOAST supported this project as an alternative to a long list of horrific projects that deposited toxic sediment, rocks, garbage, metal and glass on our beaches under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hopefully this project will be a bit better.

Here is a summery of the history of local sand projects:

The history of Imperial Beach is rife with a parade of badly executed “beach replenishment” projects that have failed to actually do much to protect our coastline. The problem of our receding shoreline is the result of the combination of sea level rise, the construction of the Rodriguez Dam and the armoring of our coast.

Here is a brief history of the mostly unsuccessful and fatally flawed sand projects carried out by federal agencies at the urging of the city of Imperial Beach. Only one agency, SANDAG, has been able to carry out a successful beach project—primarily due to its commitment to using clean, large-grain sand for its projects.

1976-77: The most toxic areas of South San Diego Bay are dredged and the spoils are dumped on Imperial Beach, killing benthic life (e.g., sand crabs) for more than a decade. Local surfers still tell stories about the skin rashes they received from contact with the filthy sediment.

1977-84: The Army Corps of Engineers attempts to build a mile-long breakwater in Imperial Beach. The fledgling Surfrider Foundation and local surfer Jim Knox stop the project at the last minute. The breakwater would have forever destroyed surfing and wave action in most of Imperial Beach.

2001: SANDAG carries out a project with clean sand, which helps to create great sandbars for surfing and clearly increases the size of our beach.

2004: Army Corps dredges area near the Bay Bridge. Barges then dump toxic sediment in the surf zone including thousands of rocks and pieces of garbage, dangerous rebar and metal onto the beach and in the surf zone. Surfers call the dump area “Toxics.” One child is almost impaled by a piece of rebar that is hidden in the surf zone. The city initially denies that the garbage and rocks are from the project. No measurable benefit to beach.

2007: Army Corps permits the dredging of a toxic hot spot in San Diego Bay’s Shelter Island. Dredge spoils are dumped with no notice to Imperial Beach residents. Barge is initially turned away by Imperial Beach lifeguards. The barge subsequently works in the middle of the night to avoid public scrutiny. No measurable benefit to beach.

2009: Starting in 2000, Army Corps and the city of Imperial Beach plan a $75 million long-term project involving dredging an area near the border sewage outfall pipe that was used as a World War I gunnery and bombing area. WiLDCOAST, Imperial Beach surfers, the Surfrider Foundation, Senator Tom Coburn and the Obama White House kill the project that the city of Imperial Beach spent more than $250,000 lobbying for.

2010: SANDAG once again proposes “best practices” sand project to be carried out in 2012 involving clean large grain sand. The agency works extensively with local surfers and stakeholders to plan the project.

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