After a flurry of debate lasting a few weeks, the decade-old problem of how best to approach erosion protection at Goleta Beach Park received a big push forward Tuesday as the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0-1 to approve conceptual plans presented by county Parks Department staff.
Deputy Parks Director Eric Axelson said the plan, dubbed Goleta Beach 2.0, was an attempt by county staff to tackle the problem in an entirely different manner in the wake of the California Coastal Commission’s 9-1 defeat last summer of the previous proposal put forward by the county.
Where the former plan, called the permeable pile pier project, sought to use a series of wooden pilings placed alongside Goleta Pier to trap sand on Goleta Beach, Goleta Beach 2.0 is what planners said is a more natural approach, and calls for movement of infrastructure and parking areas away from parts of the park vulnerable to erosion.
“Everything we’re talking about today has to do with the west end of the park,” Axelson said Tuesday, adding that because of a scouring of sand downstream of the rocky headland between the property line between UCSB and the park, removal of about 150 parking spaces would be a key feature of the park’s reconfiguration.
“Most of the year, we don’t need the 150 spaces of the west end of the park,” he said, noting that during weekdays especially, the only people known to park there are UCSB students and staff. By restriping the remaining 450 spaces, 20 more spaces could be gained, and Axelson said the option of building a satellite parking area within a half-mile of the park — replete with shuttle bus or water taxi service — is being examined by staff.
Goleta Beach 2.0 also calls for three utility lines running through the park — a sewage line, a reclaimed water line and a natural gas line — to be moved farther away from the ravaging effects of potential storm erosion, and Axelson said he’s also exploring the option of gaining permission from Caltrans to move the utilities into the Highway 217 corridor.
The plan also calls for several recreational enhancements, including moving the bike trail, improving traffic flow by building a new bridge for vehicle traffic, replacing the existing bridge with a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, and potentially adding an interpretive trail and kayak area.
Although most people in attendance at Tuesday’s board hearing spoke in support of the project, there was a significant contingent of detractors in the audience. Several Goleta residents and members of Friends of Goleta Beach — a community group that has opposed Goleta Beach 2.0 since its inception last year — expressed concern that removing a series of nonpermitted rock walls designed to protect the beach during times of high surf would lead to loss of the park.
“I feel that Goleta Beach 2.0 is more about Coastal Commission policy than it is about Goleta Beach, and that it’s more about special interests than it is about residents of the Goleta Valley,” said Peter Crick, a Goleta resident, who noted that leaving the rocks in place would cost the county less money in the long run. “The rock revetments will save Goleta Beach Park.”
At the behest of board chairwoman Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, county counsel responded to Crick’s comments, saying that permits for most of the rocks placed on Goleta Beach — except for the ones lining the front of the Beachside Cafe — had expired and that applications for new ones had never been received.
Citing the rock-strewn coast of Ventura County as an example, Brian Brennan, executive director of BEACON, said coastal scientists have weighed in and said coastal armoring doesn’t work.
“What you have [with Goleta Beach 2.0] is a great opportunity to manage the park into the future,” Brennan said. “You could end up making the decision to leave it the way it is, and then end up looking like Ventura.”
During her commentary on the issue, Wolf said that many of the same people who had originally supported the deposed permeable pile pier project option — a condition of which was removal of the rocks — are now dead-set against Goleta Beach 2.0.
“When I looked at Goleta Beach 2.0, what I saw was an opportunity to enhance that recreational area,” she said, explaining that removal of the 150 parking spaces at the park’s west end would increase the area of sandy beach there. “I just want to remind people that if we move forward with Goleta Beach 2.0, it doesn’t represent a demise of Goleta Beach Park.”
Some, however, were miffed about the county’s role in asserting its authority over the Coastal Commission regarding some coastal land use issues. Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno — who abstained from voting (along with First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who was not present) — said appointed members of the Coastal Commission shouldn’t decide land use policy for officials elected by county voters.
Axelson said the next year will be dedicated to performing engineering and environmental reviews and finalizing a State Lands Commission lease that was renewed last year (4.5 acres of Goleta Beach lies on state land). The plan is tentatively scheduled to come back before the Board of Supervisors next summer for final review, and if approved is likely to go before the Coastal Commission in the fall of 2011.
Coastal Commission policy was the next item on the agenda, with supervisors discussing the commission’s recommendations for the county’s Local Coastal Land Use Plan. Almost all of the members of the public who showed up to chime in on the proposed changes were against them in varying degrees. Most said the Coastal Commission had overstepped its bounds by adding in provisions limiting agricultural operations in the coastal zone and prohibiting maintenance of private stairways leading down the bluffs to the beach.
“I think we may have a Coastal Commission staff which may not understand the implications of their recommendations,” said Phil McKenna, a member of the Gaviota Planning Advisory Committee and president of the Naples Coalition. The Environmental Defense Center and the Law Offices of Marc Chytilo showed support for the proposed changes.
Supervisors indicated a need for more information, though, and continued the issue to next week’s meeting.