Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone and a panel of experts gave I.V. residents a geology lesson Tuesday night to explain the county’s rationale for evicting a number of oceanside Del Playa Drive residents last fall.
Approximately 50 people attended the meeting — held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Embarcadero Hall – to hear experts and local officials discuss the environmental and geological forces that are wearing away at the DP bluffs. Firestone moderated a panel that included UCSB geology professor Arthur Sylvester, Santa Barbara Planning Commission Assistant Director Diane Meester and Santa Barbara County geologist Brian Baca. Senior Deputy County Counsel Kevin Ready also joined the panel to help field questions from audience members. While Firestone categorized the evening as a success, several students and a DP property owner said the meeting fell short of their expectations.
The panelists agreed that one possible solution to the erosion problem threatening the bluffs is the construction of a breakwater — a formation of sand located off the coast that would prevent waves breaking on the shore — to expand the beach.
“A breakwater is something that’s been talked about,” Firestone said. “I would like to find out if it’s feasible here and what it would cost.”
Sylvester said he believes human and animal traffic on the clifftops and the impact of waves on the soft rocks that make up the coastal bluffs have caused the cliff’s rapid erosion.
Baca said environmental wear and tear has pushed the cliff’s edge close to coastal properties faster than expected.
“Retreat rates measured in a county study comparing building records from the mid-’60s to 1994 show up to nine feet [of erosion] at once and up to one foot a year,” Baca said.
Meester said all new construction on DP is now required to conform with county standards based on the California Coastal Act, although separate standards apply to existing structures, many of which have been in place for decades. She said existing buildings are allowed to remain as they are as long as they are safe.
Baca said the outdated building plan that was in effect when many DP residences were first erected — a plan that he said did not foresee the bluff erosion of the past 30 years — is responsible for most of the recent evictions.
“The problem in I.V. is the buildings were built in the mid-’60s with a 30-year design life,” Baca said. “The retreat rates in western I.V. have been far greater than anticipated when the buildings were designed and permitted.”
Meester said blufftop buildings are regulated by a county monitoring program that allows a 60-day period after condemnation for property owners to convince the county that their properties are structurally sound. Ready said landlords are responsible for communicating county condemnation orders to tenants, as the county can only publicize such information if it is about to take action.
Meester said that if the county finds more problems with blufftop residences in the near future, it will try to inform landlords during April or May of this year to minimize student inconvenience.
Lou Ventura, owner of a DP apartment complex that the county initially condemned but later determined to be safe, said he thought the county used the town hall meeting as an opportunity to make excuses for what he said was a wrongful condemnation of some blufftop properties.
“When you see this many bigwigs show up from the county, you can tell there’s an agenda,” Ventura said. “I think the attorney for the county and Diane Meester are covering for mistakes made by the county.”
Adam Graff, a third-year biology major and member of the Associated Students Legislative Council, said he thought that the county’s presentation did not fully address residents’ concerns, especially those of blufftop tenants who felt they were not notified early enough about possible evictions.
“Some responses from county officials were a little weak,” Graff said. “Erosion is, by nature, a steady process, and it’s pretty clear when a property is going to be compromised, and I don’t buy [the county’s] explanation that things happened over the summer that caused evictions.”
Scott Bull, co-founder of the Isla Vista chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said he was disappointed that Firestone chose to focus the town hall meeting on the science of erosion. Bull said Firestone has ignored Surfrider’s requests for a similar forum discussing the board of supervisors’ recent decision to abandon plans to create a large open-space park on DP.
“I do think students aren’t as interested in science as they are about protecting open space,” Bull said. “People are still looking for a permanent solution, and I don’t think this forum satisfied the issues of the students.”
Firestone said he felt that the meeting was a success, despite the protests of some of the attendees.
“I think it was exactly what I envisioned,” Firestone said. “There’s no magic solution, but tonight was a big step.”