In Ventura, a retreat in the face of a rising sea

Higher ocean levels force Ventura officials to move facilities inland,
an action that is expected to recur along the coast as the ocean rises
over the next century.

By Tony Barboza The Los Angeles Times January 16, 2011

Construction crews are removing a crumbling bike path, ripping out a
120-space parking lot and laying down sand and cobblestones. By
pushing the asphalt 65 feet inland, the project is expected to give
the wave-ravaged point 50 more years of life.

The effort by the city of Ventura is the most vivid example to date of
what may lie ahead in California as coastal communities come to grips
with rising sea levels and worsening coastal erosion. As the coastline
creeps inland, scouring sand from beaches or eating away at coastal
bluffs, landowners will increasingly be forced to decide whether to
spend vast sums of money fortifying the shore or give up and step

State officials say the $4.5-million project in Ventura is the first
of its kind in California and could serve as a model for threatened
sites along the coast.

"Managed retreat, as it's called, is one of the things that we're
going to have in our quiver to deal with sea-level rise and increasing
storms," said Sam Schuchat, executive officer of the California
Coastal Conservancy, which helped fund the Surfers Point project.

Sea levels have risen about 8 inches in the last century and are
expected to swell at an increasing rate as climate change warms the
ocean, experts say. In California, the sea is projected to rise as
much as 55 inches by the end of the century and gobble up 41 square
miles of coastal land, according to a 2009 state-commissioned report
by the Pacific Institute.

For years, the preferred solution to an eroding shoreline has been to
build sea walls or dump imported sand to serve as a buffer. About
one-third of the Southern California coastline and about 10% of the
shore statewide have been fortified with sea walls and other hard

Although artificial barriers may protect property in the short term,
they often intensify the effect of waves, leaving beaches stripped of
sand until they narrow or disappear, permanently altering surf

As a result, beach-armoring projects are increasingly out of favor
with environmentalists and coastal regulators.

At Surfers Point, Ventura officials first knew they had a problem
about two decades ago, when storms started chewing away at the
oceanfront bike path a few years after it was built.

When heavy storms hit, waves ate mounds of sand, washed away chunks of
asphalt and exposed rebar, car parts and junk that had been
underground for decades.

Officials at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, which is on a 62-acre
site next to Surfers Point, initially suggested a buried sea wall. But
environmentalists and surfers fiercely objected, saying that armoring
the shore would protect a parking lot at the expense of the beach and
destroy the point break near the Ventura River that generates the
distinctive, surfer-friendly waves for which the site was named.

After extensive debate, the fairgrounds agreed to give up some of its
property for a plan that would provide room for the sand to shift. It
is based on the idea that beaches are constantly in flux, growing as
the summer's gentle waves bring sand ashore and shrinking when winter
storms scour it away.

"It was the right thing to do for all of the residents of the county,"
said fairgrounds Chief Executive Officer Barbara Quaid, who prefers
not to view it as sacrificing land but as redirecting its use. "Coming
down to the beach and seeing it beautified is a lot different than
coming down and seeing a bike path that's falling into the ocean."

The "managed retreat" marks a reversal with profound implications for
a state that has for more than a century crammed its most valuable
homes and businesses on the edge of the ocean.

"There's the old-school mentality that when nature threatens you, you
fight back," said Paul Jenkin, Ventura campaign manager for the
Surfrider Foundation and a longtime advocate for the project. "So this
idea of retreating and moving back was really quite a radical

In the near term, there are a number of publicly owned sites, from a
weathered parking lot hugging a narrow strand at Cardiff State Beach
in San Diego County to a lifeguard station within a few steps of the
surf in San Clemente, where planners might soon have to consider
moving structures out of harm's way.

Such a decision would be far tougher for private property owners, but
they too could eventually be in the position of giving up billions of
dollars of desirable real estate.

"The challenge is we have built most of our civilization within a few
feet of sea level or right at the edge," said Gary Griggs, a coastal
geologist at UC Santa Cruz who co-wrote the book "Living With the
Changing California Coast." "It's either going to be managed or
unmanaged, but it's going to be retreat."

Some coastal residences are already faced with similar predicaments.

In Santa Barbara, homes with exposed pillars teeter on the edge of the
fast-eroding oceanside cliffs of Isla Vista. Residents on the bluffs
of Pacifica in Northern California have had to evacuate their mobile
homes and apartments as waves pounded dangerously close.

Where residents have chosen to erect sea walls to protect their homes,
including mansions built along Malibu's Broad Beach and beachside
mobile homes in San Clemente, the sands have narrowed so dramatically
that walking along the seashore is impossible except at low tide.

Experts point to one shoreline where a planned retreat has worked.

The historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North
Carolina was in danger of being lost to severe shoreline erosion until
1999, when the National Park Service relocated it 2,900 feet inland.

Goleta Beach County Park in Santa Barbara County could be the next
location for a planned retreat. Officials there are watching Ventura
closely as they develop plans for a beach that has receded hundreds of
feet since the 1970s.

Park officials want to remove two parking lots, a bike path and
underground utility lines that are dangerously close to the sea and
move them up to 120 feet inland.

The idea has been unpopular with some because it would mean giving up
about an acre of public land to potentially be overtaken by the ocean.

Erik Axelson, a deputy director with Santa Barbara County Parks, said
the plan is about coming to grips with the future.

"We're recognizing that we're living in a coastal environment that
changes," he said. "And we want to work with that change and move
things out of harm's way.",0,85102.story

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