Pacifica March 2016

Page 22

Preserving coastal treasures


By Vanitha Sankaran / Photos by Cat Cutillo


ome of Pacifica’s greatest beauty comes from its white-crested blue waves and serene beaches, where the ocean crashes on the shore to create a natural symphony of sight and sound. However, as anyone who has lived along the sea knows, this beauty comes at a price. Pacifica has been known as a critical hotspot for coastal erosion activity for nearly a century. Erosion is a natural activity, and can be due to rises in the tides and wave run-up, storm surges, and El Niño. The big question for Pacifica residents is what can be done about it? There are three main solutions up for debate in what is a long conversation. The first is coastal armoring, which means setting up sand bags and seawalls to keep waves from eating up the shoreline. Coastal homes and buildings are saved this way, but as tides rise, dry beaches and current habitats for plants and animals become a thing of the past. Another option is beach fill, or beach nourishment, which works by widening existing beach with sand brought in from elsewhere. The process is often expensive and the new sand can be quite different from the sand already there, but at least dry beach is preserved. Lastly, there is managed retreat, which allows the waves to move inward as they will. Of course, that means shoreline construction also has to be moved inward as well. That can be expensive, but again the option helps keep the dry beach and lets new intertidal habitats form to protect the native life. Each solution comes at a cost, and everyone has an opinion on what solution sounds best. “My preference is to put up some sort of armoring,” says Jenny Wilson, a longtime Pacifica resident. “Letting the ocean take over will kill local businesses, and that’s not good for any of us.” Her husband, Rod, agrees. “I’m particularly worried about the (Sharp Park) golf course. That’s right up against the water and I don’t see how you can move that back.”



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A visitor enjoys a close up view of the ocean from the walkway at Rockaway Beach. About 5,000 Pacifica residents live in the coastal zone. Others, including the Surfrider Foundation and the Wild Equity Institute, want to see beaches saved longterm and support a managed retreat solution. Any one of these plans has to be looked at as a long-term response. But erosion emergencies can and do happen, as was recently the case when storms caused a massive section of dirt to fall from the cliffs near Esplanade Avenue. Pacifica declared a state of emergency and evacuated 40 residents from their nearby apartment building. City Manager Lorie Tinfow says, “Right now we are pretty much in a reactive mode, and we need to shift to being proactive. About 5,000 of our residents live in our coastal zones; all of our hotels but one, and 50 percent of our businesses operate there. We need a long-term plan.” That may be especially true since the damage done recently to Esplanade Avenue, Palmetto Avenue and Beach Boulevard lead up to public utilities and Highway 1. U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier came out to Pacifica to see the recent damage and spoke about needing to treat erosion not just as a local problem, but as one that needs solutions at the state and federal levels.


2/10/16 2:28 PM