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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 4:45 am | Fair 45º


Michael Rattray: Goleta Beach Park Permit a Victory, But Permanent Game Not Over

All Santa Barbara County residents who visit our beautiful Goleta Beach Park should be pleased that we finally got a unanimous vote of confidence from the Coastal Commission to continue protecting all landward park assets for the next 20 years.

Michael Rattray
Michael Rattray

The May 13 vote in and of itself is a major accomplishment for Santa Barbara County and the 1.5 million annual visitors to the park, so we all should be very pleased. There was a lot of effort by the general public, which did not give up the fight — and it paid off.

Just a year and half ago the Coastal Commission staff has said that “grass parks are not essential for the public to recreate on and access Goleta Beach ... Grass parks are an amenity that can readily be provided for at any number of inland locations in the vicinity of Goleta Beach.”

Make no mistake, this body of government and its supporters wanted us to be the poster child for “managed retreat” at Goleta Beach. What this essentially means is that mankind is the real threat to the environment and — no matter the cost — all of evidence of a human footprint should be removed along the coastline as the seas begin to overtake low-elevation properties through sea-level rise as a result of global warming.

But this time, the Coastal Commission staff report to the agency couldn’t have been more glowing.

“Goleta Beach County Park represents a regionally significant public recreational resource on the Santa Barbara County coast,” it said. “In the near-term, as long as the current trends continue, the buried revetment is not expected to result in significant adverse effects on coastal processes and sand supply.”

In this 180-degree turn for the commission and staff, which have micromanaged our coastline for decades, are they now admitting that armoring might be OK?

It may be a recognition that the variables of our beach park — south-facing coastline, developed from landfill, large changes in beach widths over recent decades, more susceptible to El Niño damage — might be a logical reason.

Or it may have been harder to justify “managed retreat” when our Santa Barbara Channel sea-level rise in the last 50 years is less than one inch.

But, for sure, the overwhelming support from our county citizens to save the park had to be a tipping point, which allowed Santa Barbara County decision makers and staff to help shape the final favorable decision.

But not to go unpunished, the Coastal Commission did insert language into the permit that allows Sacramento to micromanage us for the next 20 years under this new permit. The language will cause county staff to submit monitoring and maintenance reports continuously over the life of the permit.

It also goes so far as to ask for a “Mother, may I” from Coastal Commission staff for beach nourishment (i.e. replacing sand) with analysis on grain size, contaminants, color and particle shape.

One wonders how Mother Nature would have fared under California Coastal Commission control for the millions of years that sediment has flowed down mountain creek beds, naturally creating beaches.

The most egregious “special conditions” in the new permit are triggers that would void the permit and start a process for a new coastal development permit that would include all new feasibility alternatives, including “managed retreat.”

What the Coastal Commission approved is, if 120 linear feet of rock are exposed anywhere on the beach’s west end for six months, then all 1,200 linear feet on the west end are considered “bad rocks” and may have to come out. It doesn’t matter that the primary reason such rocks may be exposed is because they were doing their job and protecting landward park assets from damage due to a major storm surge.

Viewing this in a larger context, approximately 10 percent of California’s entire 1,100-mile coastline is armored. No doubt, most of these rock revetments are always exposed in the surf line every day. But the only rocks to be punished are, yes, right here at Goleta Beach.

But the deal is done and the clock has started on the new coastal development permit. As it just so happens, exactly 120 linear feet of rocks are exposed on the far west end of the beach because of this year’s winter waves.

Many of us believe that our county professional staff is equal to the challenge and will provide the proper maintenance to avoid the penalties for failure. So in the meantime, go enjoy life at our wonderful Goleta Beach Park.

— Michael Rattray represents Friends of Goleta Beach Park.

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