Owners of property threatened by eroding bluffs along Del Playa Drive responded at a meeting Tuesday to Santa Barbara County’s proposed changes to the Isla Vista Bluff Policy.
The meeting was held at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ meeting room by county Building and Safety Deputy Director Massoud Abolhoda and county Planning and Development Assistant Director Steve Mason. Michael Phipps, an engineering geologist from Cotton, Shires and Associates, was also in attendance.
Mr. Abolhoda introduced the county’s latest proposal for changes to the bluff policy, which is intended to protect the safety of occupants of buildings near the eroding coastal bluffs.
Under the proposed rules, county officials would send a notice to homeowners when their property’s building foundation is 20 feet from the bluff face. The owner must then hire a geotechnical engineer to prepare a site-specific study to establish the maximum collapse width for a single fail bluff failure event. County Planning Department officials will review the study and establish a site-specific plan based on that maximum collapse width.
If the bluff retreats to 15 feet from the building foundation and the owner has not done a study, the county will issue a notice of violation and the owner must get the study done and create an abatement plan or face a fine.
At the 10-foot level, the county will order the owner to vacate the section of the unit that is within 10 feet of the bluff and have the study done make an abatement plan.
Owners of buildings with shallow foundations will need to get a permit to cut back their building before it reaches the maximum collapse width, unless they can find another viable engineering solution. Those with deep foundations will need to get a structural engineer to evaluate the capacity of the building’s caissons, watertight retaining structures use used for foundations. If the caisson is deemed ineffective to support the building, the part of the building supported by the caisson must be cut back.
“In effect there is no real change in our existing policy, the only change is that we are asking the owners to conduct the site-specific geotechnical study,” said Mr. Abolhoda.
Homeowners protested the requirement to cut into their homes and argued that other alternatives should be explored first.
Morrie Jurkowitz suggested a new sea wall, but county officials say the California Coastal Commission and County policy make the idea a longshot.
“The county has a coastal policy that precludes seawall development when there can be alternative means from protecting structures, in this case cutbacks and other scenarios. The development of sea walls, certainly Coastal Commission objects to those but they do conflict with local policies as well,” said Alex Tuttle, county Permitting Division supervisor. Mr. Tuttle added that a sea wall would restrict the public’s access to the beach.
Mr. Jurkowitz countered that cutbacks damage or modify, rather than protect, structures and added that a sea wall could potentially create a safer environment for beachgoers.
“As I view it, lateral access close to the beach is endangering the people who are using it because some of those structures on the bluff could come down. I don’t understand how that’s making is safer for people using the beach,” said Mr. Jurkowitz.
Don Farnsworth complained that Sea Lookout Park is eroding back into his property due to poor water management.
Mr. Mason admitted that water management is an issue that affects erosion on many properties but said better water management will only slow erosion.
The public can submit comments on the proposed bluff policy until the end of the month. Mr. Abolhoda said the policy will be finalized within the next two months.