Recent rains put Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas infrastructure to the test

Cities look to emergency declarations to boost repairs


The city of Encinitas has posted signs and barriers at the site of a growing sinkhole on Lake Drive in Cardiff, pictured March 1. (Photo by Roman S. Koenig)

Ryan Hardison

Much of Southern California has received record amounts of rain throughout 2023 thus far, and cities throughout North San Diego County, including Oceanside, Carlsbad and Encinitas, are attempting to reckon with the damage, one dollar at a time.

Caltrans is expecting to spend $70 million in emergency weather-related repairs this year from the State Highway System Asset Management Plan budget. This is above average, considering it typically budgets between $30 million to $50 million.

Caltrans says its emergency culvert repairs have progressed to the eastbound lanes on state Route 78 near El Camino Real, with repairs expected to last at least three weeks. The agency reports that the culverts on the eastbound side are much deeper (up to 60 feet) because of the slope of the watershed that runs down the hillside.

Caltrans also has an active culvert rehabilitation project that began this past February and will rehabilitate 35 culverts along Route 78 during the project’s two-year duration.

Carlsbad mayor: ‘Way more rain than we ever expected to get’

According to Carlsbad Mayor Keith Blackburn, the city’s ongoing infrastructure maintenance plan regularly checks for outdated materials, ensuring that any weaknesses in the city’s roads or sewers are addressed before they may become problems. The city also keeps a general fund reserve of well over 40% of the city’s general fund in addition to a separate emergency fund to address any issues within the infrastructure.

“Obviously there was way more rain than we ever expected to get, but we survived it very very well and I credit our staff and our infrastructure maintenance and the benefit of having the money to be able to keep the infrastructure in good shape,” Blackburn said.

At a City Council meeting on April 4, there was a resolution discussing the adoption of a storm-related local emergency for the repair of a sinkhole on Haymar Drive, which runs adjacent to state Route 78.

The cost of repairs needed to stabilize the sinkhole, which was determined to be likely caused by a failed storm drain carrying run-off perpendicular to Haymar Drive, are currently estimated at $280,000, with the funds coming from a capital improvement program for storm drain infrastructure. The repairs are expected to take 6-8 weeks to complete and staff will return to council on April 11 with an update on the project. The resolution passed unanimously.

While addressing the damage left behind by the stormy weather, the city is also looking ahead to ensure it is ready for what comes next. And when it comes to the possibility of assessing future weather-related damage due to climate change, District 4 Councilwoman Teresa Acosta says it’s imperative for the city to be prepared for the worst.

“I do think that every community along the coast needs to be really prepared for sea level rise and other climate adaptation issues. This is part of our city strategy … it’s something we’re aware of; we think about it all the time and it’s a priority for us,” Acosta said.

Oceanside faces repairs and heavy traffic

Just north of Carlsbad, Oceanside declared a local emergency in late March in an effort to seek federal and state funds to address the repairs needed to address the potholes, sinkholes and landslides caused by recent severe rainstorms.

Oceanside Public Works Division Manager Nathan Mertz says his group has been primarily focused on fixing potholes and roadways impacted by the rain, as well as ensuring the flooding system is working properly.

The city has also been forced to address several considerable problems left behind, such as how the structural integrity of Oceanside’s streets has been tested by the weather.

Oceanside’s City Council meeting on April 5 included a resolution to approve emergency repairs to fix a slope failure caused by the abundance of rain in the 3500 block of Sky Haven Lane.

The resolution approval, which passed unanimously, included $897,563 for slope stabilization work, authorization for the city engineer to approve change orders up to a total of $270,000 and appropriation of $1.2 million from infrastructure reserves.

Oceanside’s residents have also been heavily affected by the weeks-long lane closures on state Route 78. As Caltrans continues to work on the highway, the detour has added additional traffic to various east/west routes as people are diverted to alternative routes on Route 76, Oceanside Boulevard and College Boulevard, leading to severe traffic congestion in the area.

“The SR-78 closure is definitely impacting Oceanside because the detour runs through Oceanside between College and El Camino Real,” Mertz said. “The volume of traffic that we’re receiving on that particular segment of this delay will require extensive repairs to be made after the (state Route) 76 is opened back up and we can get back in there to do those repairs.”

The city of Oceanside is planning to complete around $70,000 worth of repairs for the westbound and eastbound lanes on Vista Way once Caltrans finishes its own repairs and traffic is restored on state Route 78.

Dual sinkholes pose challenges in Encinitas

South of Oceanside and Carlsbad, the city of Encinitas has dealt with two large sinkholes of its own that have developed and grown during the ongoing rain, even as the city has worked to treat them. This has been in addition anticipated weather-related damage such as potholes, which have popped up in various areas throughout the city.

In late February, a large sinkhole formed in the Cardiff community of Encinitas near Lake Drive, and in mid-March, it was reported that a sinkhole developed in the No. 3 lane of southbound El Camino Real north of Via Molena.

The office of the Encinitas City Council says the city is actively working to repair “specific” sinkholes and “the many” potholes that have risen due to the rain. It said residents have raised concerns about inundation in flood-prone areas, pothole requests and downed trees due to saturation and high winds.

For the upcoming Encinitas City Council meeting on April 12, there is a resolution on the agenda that is an emergency declaration for sinkhole repair on El Camino Real, just north of Via Molena. The resolution also includes a request for an additional $1.5 million in funding for all citywide storm drain repair projects for the fiscal year 2022-23.

Ryan Hardison is a local freelance writer.