Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 12:36 pm | Fair 72º


Santa Barbara County Officials Test the Waters of ‘Goleta Beach 2.0’

The public gets a chance to weigh in on proposed measures to shore up the erosion-prone area

Six months after the California Coastal Commission denied a proposal for permeable pilings to retain sand on erosion-prone Goleta Beach, Santa Barbara County officials presented another set of measures Tuesday evening.

“Goleta Beach 2.0” is an attempt to save the most vital parts of the popular park, with a reconfiguration of its utilities and amenities. In so doing, county officials hope to retain the valuable destination without having to fight the constant erosion with less environmentally friendly hard structures or constantly replenishing the beach with sand.

“We’re obviously trying to balance different issues and concerns and trying to come up with a plan we can all live with and what the Coastal Commission will approve,” said Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who hosted Tuesday’s informational public meeting.

Plans include the relocation of 170 parking spaces on the park’s western end, a prime erosion zone, thus allowing the ocean to take its natural course in that area with the idea that the erosion will hit an equilibrium point and stop eating into the beach. Satellite parking would be created north of the park, and visitors would access the beach via trail, shuttle bus or a future water taxi.

Another measure includes relocating utility lines — wastewater, gas and reclaimed water — that run close to the shore, farther inland. A popular bike trail also would be relocated.

“These actions represent a deliberate measured response to the erosion conditions that we confront at Goleta Beach today,” County Parks Deputy Director Erik Axelson said.

Other plans include a planned landing for kayaks, interpretive exhibits of the slough and the beach, an interpretive path, a new vehicular access bridge to replace the existing one — possibly turning the current one into a bike/pedestrian bridge.

The Goleta Beach 2.0 concept includes removing existing unpermitted rock revetments, but also the extension of a central area rock revetment to protect an underground vault owned by the Goleta Sanitary District, as well as another revetment to protect the relocated underground utilities.

New recreational programs are being considered, including a kayak concession, storage of small watercraft, expansion of pier fishing activities and boat excursions from Goleta Pier.

The measures presented Tuesday evening amount to a compromise of sorts among solutions proposed to save the beach and its amenities, but were deemed to be either not environmentally sensitive, such as permanent hard structures to hold off the waves; or costly, such as the constant sand replenishment that eventually ends up being washed downcurrent and dredged up in the Santa Barbara Harbor; or a threat to the use of the beach, such as a managed retreat that had people fearing for the grassy park area or the restaurant.

The variable approaches and their downsides have been a point of contention for many who have participated in work sessions for the past eight years.

“We’re looking for something that protects the park, protects the environment and can get approved by the Coastal Commission,” Environmental Defense Center analyst Brian Trautwein said.

For years a rift has developed between the environmental community, which has proposed a managed retreat solution, and those who sought to preserve the park and its amenities, despite potential impacts to the environment.

Most of the public speakers on Tuesday were generally supportive of the concept.

“At first glance, Goleta Beach 2.0 is fantastic,” Goleta Valley resident Ken Palley said.

His sentiments were shared by several like-minded speakers from environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Center and the Surfrider Foundation. Several of those speakers pushed for the utilities to be relocated even farther inland, which would negate the need for structures to protect utility lines.

There were a couple of people, though, who were uneasy about the removal of the unpermitted rock revetment, citing concerns with erosion and loss of park.

“Unless you protect (the park), you’re wasting your time and our money,” said Glen Davis, adding that relocation of the parking lot would be “ludicrous.”

Funding the project most likely would entail the establishment of parking fees, which also was a concern for those who want the park to remain accessible to low-income residents. At this conceptual stage, the actual amount of money would be difficult to determine.

“My gut feeling is that this project could well be less costly than what the county proposed last year for the permeable piles,” Axelson said.

Goleta Beach Park is the county’s most popular park, with 1.5 million visitors every year. It also has been subject to intense erosion, particularly in El Nino years, when winter storms kick up enough wave and rain action to seriously thin out the sandy area.

In response, the county has had to obtain emergency permits to erect a rock wall to help the beach weather the storms. Meanwhile, the constant erosion has led to a money drain for efforts to replenish the beach’s sand.

The last proposal to make it to the Coastal Commission was the establishment of a permeable groin — a structure of pilings erected as an extension of Goleta Pier to trap and retain sand in the area. It was criticized by local environmental groups, such as the Surfrider Foundation, because it would have interrupted the flow of sand to beaches farther downcurrent, such as Hendry’s, More Mesa and Hope Ranch. The proposal was voted down 9-1 last July by the California Coastal Commission.

Tuesday’s meeting was designed to take input from stakeholders and the public. In March, hearings will be held before the Park Commission and the Planning Commission. Then County Parks will go before the Board of Supervisors in April with the beginnings of a new project, with engineering and environmental reviews expected in May.

Click here to view an interactive map of the area.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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