COAST IS CLEAR! Stabilized boulevard reopens to traffic by La Jolla Cove, though questions remain

City of San Diego deputy chief operating officer Johnnie Perkins (center) announces the reopening of a stabilized Coast Boulevard on Oct. 16, flanked by Public Works Department Director James Nagelvoort, City Council member Barbara Bry, San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland and Transportation and Storm Water Director Kris McFadden.<br>

The City of San Diego celebrated the reopening of Coast Boulevard to vehicular traffic, from Prospect Street to Scripps Park, with an early-Wednesday press conference Oct. 16 near the Cave Store. The gateway to La Jolla Cove had been closed for nine weeks to stabilize a sea cave, Koch’s (pronounced Cook’s) Crack, that threatened to collapse and take the road with it.

Entering the sea cave in August, engineers from the City-commissioned TerraCosta Consulting Group noticed a dire acceleration in the crumbling of the cave roof that they first noted in June. At 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, San Diego deputy chief operating officer Johnnie Perkins recalled, “the consultant leaned across the table and said, ‘Johnnie, the collapse of the street and cave is imminent.’ ”

Within two hours, at the direction of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the street was closed. Over the next two months, grout injection stabilized the soil. Then more than 1,000 cubic yards of concrete slurry was poured to completely fill in and seal the cave.

The project cost taxpayers $3.2 million, but that bill may increase. The City may have to pony up some or all of the revenue lost by businesses along Coast Boulevard during their peak season — when they count on earning their biggest profits of the year.

The outside of Koch’s Crack sea cave is shown from the ocean in September, as City contractors fill it in with concrete slurry.

Dave Heine, co-owner of Brockton Villa, which sits directly atop Koch’s Crack, estimates his losses alone at $150,000 — not including $25,000 in tips sacrificed by his servers. Heine said he carries business-interruption insurance, but that it only reimbursed him for a couple of weeks.

“Our feeling is that because the City approved the project next door, and their own engineering report states that that project contributed to the undermining of the cave, that tells us that the City has some responsibility,” he said.

According to a June 17 report by TerraCosta, the two-year construction of the neighboring La Jolla Bay Homes on the former Green Dragon Colony site “may have contributed to the movement of this block and migration of sand into the fracture.”

Perkins downplayed the significance of that comment, however.

“There’s a discussion right now and review of could there have been other potential impacts to the cave destabilization,” he said, “but at this point, we don’t have anything further that would indicate that (the construction) had any significant impact or caused the cave itself to start to weaken.”

Perkins said that anyone who believes they were financially hurt by the closure can file a claim with the City’s risk-management department. Heini told the Light that he planned to and that “we’ll see how they respond.”

When asked whether any more destabilized sea caves were on the City’s watch list — in La Jolla or elsewhere — Perkins replied: “There are sea caves up and down (the coast). Not all of them are sitting (underneath) a road or a structure.”