Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 12:11 pm | Mostly Cloudy 75º


County Officials Talk Up ‘Goleta Beach 2.0’ at Chamber Forum

Some attending the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon become vocal — even agitated — about what they say is a lack of protection

Nearly a year after the California Coastal Commission voted 9-1 to deny Santa Barbara County’s version of an erosion protection plan for Goleta Beach Park, the item is again scheduled for discussion, on July 6, before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

On Wednesday, Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf discussed the plan, dubbed Goleta Beach 2.0, during an Issue & Policy Roundtable hosted by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The new plan is devoid of rock walls and other hard structures, and county planners say it relies instead on natural buffer zones to protect the beach from erosion during storms and to preserve most of the park’s existing grassy picnic and recreation areas.

While the plan lines up with the recommendations made by the California Coastal Commission last summer — commissioners had expressed an interest in seeing more exploration of options such as park reconfiguration and managed retreat instead of the conventional hard-armoring approach — a number of residents from Goleta and Santa Barbara County are concerned that it won’t do anything to protect the park.

Centered on a community group called Friends of Goleta Beach Park and backed by the Chamber of Commerce, the group is also upset that about 150 of the park’s parking spaces are slated for relocation off site, requiring a shuttle bus or some other alternative form of transportation for patrons using overflow parking.

But Wolf and Santa Barbara County Deputy Parks Director Eric Axelson urged opponents of the new project to consider the reality of the Coastal Commission’s stance.

“We can fight this, but we have been told by our legal staff that fighting a decision from a 9-1 vote would be throwing money into the wind,” Wolf said. “Instead, we can look at this as removing parking area to have a better beach.”

Central to the plan rejected by the Coastal Commission last July was what several commissioners said was a relatively untried erosion protection device — which had been supported by the chamber — called a permeable pile pier. The design called for a number of closely spaced pilings to be installed alongside Goleta pier in order to trap sand moving down the coast toward Santa Barbara, but the commission had said that the unknown potential for sand starvation at several down-coast beaches called for a different approach. It also objected to potential noise and traffic impacts from pile driving and construction activities, which were expected to have taken a considerable amount of time. They asked for further examination of managed retreat, and county staff has taken the past year to formulate a plan.

In contrast to its prior iteration, Goleta Beach 2.0 — which has the support of the Surfrider Foundation, the Environmental Defense Center and a number of other environmental groups — focuses on moving public utility lines and park buildings rather than building hard structures around them to protect against erosion.

In terms of cost, Axelson indicated that the new version would cost nearly half as much as the deposed permeable pile pier project, which had been estimated to cost anywhere from $10 million to $14 million.

“Goleta Beach 2.0 is deliberately designed to open up our thinking. We’ve gone to great lengths to solicit input from public groups like this one,” Axelson said, adding that beach sand replenishment also figures largely into the formula for Goleta Beach 2.0.

In addition to moving about an acre of parking area off site and rerouting gas, reclaimed water and sewage lines farther inland from potential storm damage, Axelson said the bike trail leading to UCSB also would be moved, and that staff is exploring the feasibility of building a new automobile bridge farther west from the existing concrete span, which would be replaced with a steel bicycle and pedestrian bridge. He indicated that problems have arisen from cars and bikes sharing the current bridge, which also has faced significant maintenance issues during the past two years.

Axelson also spoke of the possibility of having a water taxi in the Goleta slough, as well as opening a concession for kayak rentals, offering interpretive tours of the biologically diverse slough, and potentially upgrading the pier to accommodate excursion boats for whale watching and other tours available only from the Santa Barbara Harbor.

Amid vocal protests from members of the chamber at Wednesday’s information session, Axelson and Wolf were unequivocal that the rock revetments — long piles of stone running parallel to the beach — placed as emergency erosion protection during significant storm events during the past decade would have to be removed.

“I know that a number of you have raised the issue of keeping the rocks in place because they’ve worked rather well, but I can’t be more emphatic that the Coastal Commission staff will not go for it,” Axelson said.

A handful of people at the luncheon appeared to become emotional over the issue — in particular, Dave Ward, owner of Beachside Cafe. With his restaurant located right next to the beach near the foot of the pier, he suggested that removing rocks and relocating infrastructure would do nothing to physically protect the park and restaurant building.

Wolf and Axelson attempted to placate agitated individuals, but sighs and groans were audible as chamber President Kristin Amyx told her cadre that their issues were not with the county, but with policy of the California Coastal Commission.

“This is the reality we’ve been dealt,” Axelson said. “We could dedicate ourselves to engaging in litigation against the Coastal Commission that we’re not likely to win, or we can work with the Coastal Commission to develop a long-range plan to protect the park.”

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

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