Local News

March 8, 2002

Coastal Commission denies seawall construction plans

A trio of property owners and one Coastal Commissioner were left wondering Tuesday just how homeowners should protect their seaside homes.

The commission denied two projects in the Live Oak area that would have allowed the homeowners to build retaining walls to stabilize their backyard bluffs.

Environmentalists favored the denial. Seawalls threaten the natural processes that replenish beach sand, they said. Moreover, opponents of the projects said building such structures only begets more erosion.

“Armoring is plastic surgery for the coast,” said Patricia Matejcek of the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club.

One project would have built a pier below the surface of the bluff at 500 41st Ave., adjacent to a popular surf spot called The Hook. Another project on two Opal Cliff Drive parcels would have built a concrete wall made to look like rock on the upper regions of the bluff above another hot surf area called Privates.

Everyone agreed the bluffs are eroding, as do any coastal bluffs. The conflict was about how fast the erosion was occurring and whether it was significant enough to start building walls.

The owners’ geologist said it was, the commission’s said it wasn’t on both sites.

But the bigger question was how should property owners proceed when facing that kind of dilemma.

Both projects were approved by the county.

“What homeowners need to know is what do we need to do and how do we need to do it,” Opal Cliff Drive resident Alistar Black.

Commissioner Amanda Susskind sympathized with the property owners’ plight.

“I would definitely like to see the rules of the game set out,” Susskind said.

Commissioners decided that the erosion wasn’t close enough to the houses yet. The houses on Opal Cliff drive range from 27 to 70 feet from the bluff while the 41st Avenue residence sits about 24 feet from the bluff.

Barring a catastrophic event, commissioners decided there wasn’t a long-term threat.

But the homeowners said there was not only a threat to their homes but to the safety of beach users below. They showed a video of a January landslide that took about a 5-foot chunk of the side of a bluff and said taking the measures they were seeking were better done now than later.

“There’s no doubt about the instability of the bluff,” said Joel Schwartz, a consultant to the property owners.

However, environmentalists encouraged the commission to look at the big picture of the California Coast and let natural processes continue as long as possible.

Kaitilin Gaffney of the Ocean Conservancy said about one-fourth of the California Coast from the Golden Gate Bridge to Mexico is armored.

“This project is at best premature,” Gaffney said. “The structures are not threatened at this time.”

Contact Brian Seals at