The winter storms that have hammered Isla Vista in recent weeks dealt heavy damage to several of the beach access pathways along Del Playa Drive, ripping off stairway handrails and even blocking one path with a landslide.
The Santa Barbara County Public Works Dept. closed the beach access point at Camino Pescadero after harsh weather and high tides wrecked much of the wooden structure at the base of the stairway to the beach. The intense rain caused a large amount of mud and debris to slide down the hill onto the path at the El Embarcadero access point. The stairway handrails at Escondido Pass, near Camino Corto, were also damaged during a storm, but the pathway was still open as of Sunday night.
Alison McMahon, a sophomore communication major, is a resident at 6551 Del Playa Dr., the property directly harmed by the mudslide that blocked the El Embarcadero beach access point. McMahon said the slide occurred while she and her roommates were away over Winter Break, and she said that neither her landlord nor the county has contacted her about the damage.
“No one has really told us anything yet,” McMahon said. “The damage doesn’t look too bad, though.”
Although McMahon feels no current threat from the landslide, she said that was taken aback when she returned from break to find that much of the ground next to her house had slid down the hill.
“There was caution tape around the house when we got back,” McMahon said. “That was kind of unnerving.”
Pat McCormick, a fourth-year history major, resides at 6549 DP, the building on the opposite side of the El Embarcadero pathway from the landslide. McCormick was in I.V. when the damage occurred and said that the hillside impacted by the slide has since been covered by plastic tarps secured by sandbags.
“It happened during a really bad part of the storm,” McCormick said. “It was raining as hard as I’ve ever seen in I.V. It was worse when it first happened – a lot of it has gotten cleared away.”
McCormick said the earth around his house has experienced some erosion during the storms. He said, however, that he is not overly concerned that the slide hazard is severe enough to require that the property be evacuated.
“It’s possible, but we’re not too worried about it,” McCormick said.
Derek Johnson, general manager of the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District, said the beach access stairways are not in any immediate danger of collapsing.
“Some of these access ways are more than 40 years old,” Johnson said. “They’re not going to fall down anytime soon, but considerable work needs to be done to bring them up to current standards.”
IVRPD board member Diane Conn said three major beach access points in I.V. – the ones at Camino Pescadero, Camino Del Sur and Escondido Pass – are currently owned by the Santa Barbara County Public Works Dept.
Conn said the IVRPD is currently working on a plan to take over control of the three access pathways from the county. However, the IVRPD will need to raise $216,000 to repair the stairways and reinforce them with steel and concrete before it can transfer over the maintenance responsibilities, Conn said.
“If the stairs get totally wiped out, we won’t have the money to rebuild them,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure these access ways are open. If we aren’t sure we can maintain them, we’re not going to assume control of them.”
Johnson said the road maintenance division of the public works department is responsible for caring for the beach access points, meaning that damaged pathways will be repaired only after the organization takes care of its primary responsibilities.
“They’re, frankly, strangers to operating and maintaining beach access ways,” Johnson said. “These are difficult facilities to manage, and they have other priorities that they need to focus on.”
Johnson said he does not blame public works for paying less attention to beach access, but he said that the current situation could result in long delays before damaged pathways are repaired.
“Beach access ways get damaged; it happens all the time,” Johnson said. “It can sometimes take two, three, four, even six months for these access ways to reopen. [The IVRPD] could be more responsive because we are based in I.V.”
Conn said she agreed with Johnson’s belief that the IVRPD could care for the beach access paths more thoroughly than the county, helping minimize the amount of time they must be closed for repairs.
“We’re trying to form a partnership with the county because we’re here [in I.V.],” Conn said. “We’re out here all the time, while public works can’t always come out here every week.”