After the recent storms, cliff erosion is now more apparent in Isla Vista than ever before.
Strong winds and rains led to the evacuation of over 20 Isla Vista residents in February after bringing one Del Playa property within five feet of the cliff edge.
“I don’t think any of the staff here remembers the last time we got a storm this big, with the combination of the rain and surf,” Massoud Abolhoda, an official at the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department, said.
Every year, several members of Abolhoda’s department walk the beach over which the cliffs loom. The county officials inspect each cliffside property to ensure that none are in peril of impending damages that could result from cliff erosion. The department has been doing this for over a decade.
“The program is not about assessing the safety of the cliff, but it’s based on establishing and checking to see how close a building is sitting next to a cliff,” Abolhoda said.
Abolhoda personally visits each cliffside house and apartment on Del Playa Drive to measure the distance from the top of the cliff to the property.
During these inspections, Abolhoda will enter the backyards of the properties and use a tape measure to determine the distance from the property’s foundation to the edge of the cliff.
If the cliff’s edge is less than 15 feet away from the property’s actual foundation — not including the deck or patio — then the property will receive a notice advising the property owner to have an engineer observe the cliff’s erosional activity.
If the cliff continues to erode and the property comes within 10 feet of the edge of the bluff, the property owner will receive a notice requiring them to have an engineer assess the safety of the building and decide whether they need to perform any cutbacks, a process that removes parts of buildings nearest to the cliff edge.
In the case that the property comes within five feet of the edge of the cliff, inspectors will “red tag” the property, deeming it too dangerous for residents to live in.
Abolhoda added that while it may appear that some decks stretching over the edge seem like they could potentially be prone to the effects of erosion, they are structurally designed to hang over the edges of the cliffs.
Some landlords check up on their properties’ proximity to the edge of the cliffs more regularly.
“My landlord is here all the time; he checks on my place about three to five times a week,” Dylan Ito, who lives in a cliffside apartment on Del Playa Drive, said.
Every measurement performed during the inspections is assured to be accurate, Abolhoda said, which is why measurements are taken from both the beach and the properties.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said county officials correspond with property residents if a property is within 15 or 10 feet of the cliff’s edge. County officials actually correspond with the property owner under such circumstances.