Seawall’s future in council’s hands
RAMONA TURNER – Sentinel staff writer
Article Launched: 10/27/2004 12:00:00 AM PDT

CAPITOLA “” There’s quite a bit of campaigning going on in Depot Hill, and it has nothing to do with next week’s election.

Rather, information pamphlets are being circulated in an attempt to sway community opinion, and that of the City Council, about a proposed $2 million, privately funded seawall along the base of the bluff.

In August, the Planning Commission denied the project. Thursday at 7 p.m., the council will hear an appeal to that decision at City Hall, 420 Capitola Ave.

If built, the quarter-mile-long, 25-foot-tall proposed seawall “” a project spearheaded by a group of 18 blufftop property owners called the Depot Hill Geological Hazard Abatement District “” would extend from Central to Livermore avenues.

If it’s not built, proponents say high seas and erosion would take out the path and sewer lines in 10-15 years; homes would be threatened in about 35 years.

“(The seawall is) not about saving houses, it’s about saving the walkway,” said John Hart, who owns a house along the Grand Avenue pedestrian path and is a member of the abatement district, which would foot the seawall’s bill. “If we don’t get to build the seawall in 15 years, we’ll lose the walkway.”

If saving the path is the motive for the seawall, some district members who oppose it for environmental reasons say they shouldn’t have to pay for it or be part of the district, which the city formed in the mid-1990s to look at erosion control on the bluff.

The path “” and the land for it “” stops short of several homes east of Hollister and beyond Livermore, including those of Tim and Denise Ryan, and Tom Jones and Ginger Fortier.

“We’ve never had a path,” said Fortier, who has co-owned her home with Jones for 19 years.

Meanwhile, Skip Allan, a 30-year Capitola resident who opposes the seawall, has photos depicting how the seawall proponents are encroaching several feet onto the public path with nondrought-resistant landscaping, which causes topsoil erosion.

To date, the property owners in the district have spent at least $250,000 on an environmental impact report for the proposed seawall. Such fiscal responsibility may be just the beginning if the project is approved.

The thought makes Jones shudder.

“This money could be going to help the homeless or schools “” not a seawall,” said Jones, a retired advertising professional, noting that his first property-tax bill from the district was $9,000. He and the Ryans estimate they’ve each paid $15,000-$20,000 into the district since its formation.

At Thursday’s hearing, Councilmen Tony Gualtieri and Bruce Arthur will not participate in the discussion because they live in or near the district.

That leaves council members Gayle Ortiz, Dennis Norton and Mayor Stephanie Harlan to decide the seawall’s fate.

If the project is approved, it would need approval from the Coastal Commission and Army Corps of Engineers before construction could begin.

If the council denies it, Hart said the district’s members will discuss their next step when they meet next month.

Contact Ramona Turner at
Capitola Seawall In making its August decision to deny the project, the Planning Commission said the proposed seawall would:

# Not be in the public’s interest, as it would protect private property.

# Not be fair to the three or four property assessment district members who do not want the seawall but would have to pay for it.

# Cover an area rich in fossils described as “˜Capitola’s museum of natural history.’

# Not save the public path along Grand Avenue atop the cliff.

# Eventually deny public access along the shore.

# Impact the rest of the coastline in an unknown way.

The commission also found that alternatives, such as drainage improvements to the top of Depot Hill, were not adequately studied.