La Jolla Hermosa Park storm drain is repaired after years of flooding and erosion

La Jolla Hermosa Park is a coastal overlook in Bird Rock with seating areas.
La Jolla Hermosa Park is a coastal overlook in Bird Rock with seating areas.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Like a dripping faucet — or in this case, a blocked storm drain — problems at La Jolla Hermosa Park have been steady and irritating to neighbors. In recent years, flooding and worsening erosion of the bluff edge have limited access and caused damage due to a blocked storm drain that caused water to run off into other areas of the park.

But more recently, crews from the city of San Diego have been making repairs to the storm drain so it flows properly and the park can be entirely reopened to users. Work included clearing and trimming encroaching vegetation and removing sediment and a “significant amount of debris in and along the channel” and near the southwest corner of the park, according to area resident Barbara Dunbar, who filed a report almost two years ago alerting the city to the problems. Work was completed Dec. 2.

San Diego city crews work on repairs to a storm drain at La Jolla Hermosa Park in Bird Rock.
(San Diego Stormwater Department)

The quarter-acre park on Chelsea Avenue in Bird Rock overlooks the ocean with benches and a small table.

A report submitted by Dunbar and shared at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting Dec. 5 said the problems started when water from two Chelsea Avenue storm drains was diverted from the blocked drain, which resulted in extensive damage to the southwest corner of the park and the bluff edge and near the drainage culvert.

“The big issues are that the storm drain is obstructed and the retaining wall that kept the dirt out of the storm drain is
catawampus [awry] ... so any water that comes into the storm drain goes into the park and there is that big crevasse,” Dunbar said in summer 2021. “The viewing bench was removed because it was in jeopardy of falling in. The safety of the bottom section and the storm drain are important. We’re lucky it was a dry season.”

At the time, Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said the city was committed to fixing the storm drain.

In speaking with the La Jolla Light this month, LaCava called the repairs “one of those classic situations where the storm drain outlets near a coastal bluff … had not been maintained” and needed to be addressed before the problem got bigger.

While it seemed like an easy fix at first, “cases like this have happened up and down the coast when maintenance work gets put off and put off and it becomes a major project,” LaCava said. “Every time it rains, you run the risk of it getting worse and worse.”

Once crews got onsite, they realized the extent of the damage to the park “along with the damage to the coastal bluff, which is extremely vulnerable,” LaCava said. “We were concerned at multiple levels. Storm drain facilities had lost its usefulness, and the challenges, besides the city backlog, is when you work around the coastal bluff, we want to be careful in terms of repair work. So the initial idea was to clean it out. But we found there was some damage and it wasn’t a cleanup job. It triggered a coastal development permit.”

The good news, he said, is that once the permit was in hand, the work could be carried out by the city’s Stormwater Department, which expedited the process.

Crews work to reduce flooding and erosion at the edge of La Jolla Hermosa Park.
(San Diego Stormwater Department)

The resulting clearance and maintenance “should substantially reduce potential flooding and bluff erosion at that location and the adjacent park,” Dunbar said in her report this month. “The culvert appeared to function properly during recent rains. Additional cleanup, repair work and erosion control within the park has been performed by [city] parks and recreation staff.”

“Repair of the stairway access to the southwest corner viewing area remains to be completed, as does return of the viewing bench,” Dunbar stated.

She said the Bird Rock Community Council, of which she is a member, “is grateful for the work performed by the stormwater team. The neighbors near the project deserve thanks for their patience and understanding, as there were days when large equipment blocked access to Chelsea Avenue.”

Going forward, she said, “it is anticipated that the recently repaired terrace portion of the park will need landscaping or protective covering for erosion control.”

Workers complete storm drain repairs at the edge of La Jolla Hermosa Park.
(San Diego Stormwater Department)

An evaluation of San Diego city park amenities in October 2021 included La Jolla Hermosa Park.

The report looked at playgrounds, parking lots, playing fields and courts, furnishings, landscaping, pedestrian paving and other features.

Each park was given a Park Condition Index, or PCI, determined by a mathematical equation that factored in the costs of needed repairs and replacements. The lower the PCI, the better. The 14 parks rated in La Jolla had an average PCI of 9, considered “good.” La Jolla Hermosa Park had a score of 24.

This summer, the La Jolla Community Planning Association, La Jolla Shores Association, Bird Rock Community Council and La Jolla Parks & Beaches came together to produce a list of capital improvement projects they would like the city to implement in the coming year.

Revitalizing La Jolla Hermosa Park was No. 4 on the seven-item list, which was finalized at the LJCPA meeting Sept. 1 and submitted to the city for consideration based on priorities and funding availability. At the top of the list was widening and rebuilding the sidewalk in Scripps Park adjacent to Coast Boulevard. ◆