UPDATED: El Niño storm hits La Jolla: Sink hole appears on Avenida De La Playa in La Jolla Shores


A storm surge more powerful than expected was the probable cause of the sinkhole/collapse that took place at the end of Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores late night Wednesday, Jan. 6, according to the city.

The roadway adjacent the boat launch at the western end of the street dropped two feet, weakening underlying supports and exposing a gas line. Early the next morning, SDG&E crews were on site to break up the remaining concrete to prevent further collapse and re-route the gas line.

Especially frustrating for those living and working in the area is the fact that the street has been under construction since December 2013 as part of Sewer & Water Job 809. Throughout the project, the sewer and water lines under Avenida de la Playa and adjoining streets were under construction, block by block, with breaks for the summer construction moratorium.

Although the ocean sports businesses and restaurants along Avenida de la Playa breathed a sigh of relief when the western end of the street was completed and repaved in May 2015, this storm marked the first test of how the revived street would hold up. As such, some are calling its collapse “a mess.”

Said Karen Marshall, who co-owns La Jolla Surf Systems down the street from the destruction, “The businesses (in this area) all know the street floods at that intersection with water coming from both the ocean and rain during a storm, so I thought city engineers would have included something in this project to account for that. This is inexcusable. I don’t understand why this has happened.”

Citing concern over how long it might take to repair the crater left behind, Marshall told La Jolla Light, “The flooding situation is an ongoing inconvenience for the businesses and the people living here who want to have a weekend down at the Shores. The city can’t seem to get their act together. It’s frustrating.”

Tim Lucas, former chair of the La Jolla Shores Association, said it would likely take a few weeks to repair the street damage. However, that is dependent on amenable weather.

“I guess the sidewalk project wasn’t quite ready for a storm to be that strong or violent,” Lucas said. “It’s going to take a week of good weather for them to excavate without damaging the box culvert (structure that protects the sewer and water mains) and stabilize everything, at the very least.”

However, Lucas added that the 809 Project will not be complete until March of this year, so the contract is still active. “Thankfully, construction crews don’t need to apply for another permit to get this fixed,” he said. “That could take months.” Lucas was chair during much of the heaviest construction.

Representing San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner (who is also a La Jolla Shores resident), Justin Garver told the La Jolla Community Planning Association at its Jan. 7 meeting that the city was “investigating” the cause of the collapse and would provide more information at its next meeting, 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4 at La Jolla Rec Center. The LJSA also discussed the situation at its meeting Jan. 13. Read more about the presentation in the Jan. 21 issue of La Jolla Light.

A request for comment by the city engineers working on the project was not returned by deadline.

A series of storms triggered by the weather phenomenon El Niño have brought heavy rain the past week to La Jolla and the Southern California region.