It was a scene out of an apocalyptic natural disaster movie: streets flooding from an unusually high tide and big swell, a pier disappearing under enormous waves, beach landmarks eroding as the surf breaks ferociously on shore. But it wasn’t a movie. It happened last Friday, Dec. 11, along the Ventura coastline and apparently no one could have predicted this perfect storm or the damage it would cause. Those who have spent most of their lives dedicated to preserving local beaches and public access to the coast, however, differ on what could have been done to prevent such damage.
Paul Jenkin, campaign coordinator for the Ventura chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, joined the organization 20 years ago specifically because of coastal erosion at Surfers Point, an area hit especially hard last week, leaving one large palm tree planter upended because of erosion. Jenkin was also pivotal in the $3 million Surfers Point Managed Retreat Project, completed in 2011, that successfully moved the pedestrian and bike pathway back 60 feet in order to preserve public access while handling a rising tide and erosion due to the lack of natural replenishment. The Matilija Dam has been a bone of contention for decades as the sediment that would otherwise flow naturally down the Ventura River has been locked up behind the dam, leaving the city of Ventura to find solutions for replenishment. Jenkin did note, though, that because of the drought, there might not have been enough natural sediment to make a difference for this recent natural event.
When it comes to the recent “perfect storm” that left the pier closed due to lost pilings and a sagging walkway as well as a downed palm tree planter at Surfers Point, Jenkin said that the city should nourish the beaches with cobble every year. According to Rick Raives, Ventura Public Works director, since 2000, the beach at Surfers Point has been nourished three times, mostly recently in 2013.
“About an 800-foot section is the most vulnerable between Figueroa and the fairgrounds,” Raives said. “Every time, it costs $300,000 to $400,000 — not the best use of public funds (to do it every year). We do that nourishment every five to six years. We just do not have this kind of money to do it every year.”
While Raives said that the cobble had been working to prevent beach erosion, noting that the promenade and beach between the BeachFronter Apartments and nearby condos did not suffer much last week, Jenkin expressed frustration over the situation.
“It is just a sign of a lack of planning and a lack of funding dedicated for our beach,” Jenkin said.
Raives, who has been working on beach erosion issues for 28 years, said that he felt the toppling of the planter and the beach erosion couldn’t have been prevented. The city was just issued an emergency permit from the Coastal Commission to address the erosion at the point, but not necessarily to preserve the beach at the most vulnerable area — the permit is specifically to protect the promenade. Instead of cobble nourishment, the city will do rock revetment, similar to what is seen along the beach against the promenade wall toward the pier, utilizing larger, jagged rock, which will stay in place to armor the promenade.
Raives said that the city most likely will not rush the revetment project, but instead will do a call for bids and hire a contractor to get the rock to the point. Jenkin said that sometimes those bigger rocks do not stay in place, but have made it out into the surf, posing a danger to surfers and swimmers. Raives said he was unaware of said rocks in the surf zone, but that discarded asphalt and concrete from public work projects many decades ago have caused some problems, especially when reinforcing bar becomes exposed. Raives said city employees do go out and cut the rebar when they alerted to the issue.
Jenkin stands firm that the city needs to do more and spend more to preserve its greatest asset as well as prepare for the worst with sea level rise and vulnerability of the wastewater treatment plant’s location on the Santa Clara River. He is also concerned about the Mandalay Generating Station across the river.
“We really need to ensure that we still have beaches in the future,” Jenkin said. “Moving things back out of harm’s way is a prudent strategy.”
He also said that beachfront homeowners in Pierpont could have experienced less drama as the high tide brought the ocean to their front doors if the dunes had been allowed to form naturally and serve as a barrier. Raives said that due to a lawsuit, the city must remove sand that piles up against the beachfront homes, but relayed that as long as the drains at the ends of the streets remain unclogged — an ongoing issue because of sand encroachment — they will be able to handle tidal surges.