Weather and waves have never been kind to Santa Barbara County’s most popular park.
Officials have reported that over the last three years, Goleta Beach Park has seen 53,000 square feet of land eroded by storms and wave action, prompting regular emergency action to protect the shoreline, parking lots, a restaurant, picnic areas and other park amenities from the encroaching ocean.
Rock revetments have been constructed along the shore in the past, and last year, a geotextile mesh was buried below the beach to hold sand in place before becoming exposed.
In January, a sand berm was put in place, and though it protected the beach during a storm, it was wiped away in two days.
More rock revetments were installed in February and March after especially powerful storms, and the pier was closed for a month for significant repairs.
All these solutions have required emergency permits from the Coastal Commission, the powerful state body that oversees projects along the California coast, as well as money that county officials are increasingly unhappy paying out.
As Goleta Beach Park jumps from emergency to emergency, the county Board of Supervisors is growing impatient with what have become stop-gap solutions to the relentless weathering of a park that sees an estimated 1.5 million visitors a year.
On the supervisors’ plate Tuesday was a request to authorize those emergency expenditures, many of which came out of funds not intended for the kind of work they paid for.
“I really don’t like approving expenditures after the fact — especially a million-dollar one,” said Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
The abrupt episodes of erosion shouldn’t be called emergencies when they happen regularly, he added.
“Really, our hands are tied. I really think we have to come up with a long-term solution because what we’re doing right now is not working.”
Community Services Director George Chapjian and County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato explained that they had little time to deliberate where the money would come from with storms about to hit and damage needing immediate restoration.
Vexing the supervisors as well were occasional violations of the emergency permits’ provisions, like construction contractors allowing their machinery to get too close to the ocean.
That, while routinely going to the Coastal Commission for those permits without a long-term plan, is going to start looking suspicious to the commission, warned First District Supervisor Das Williams.
Though the supervisors ultimately approved the expenditures 5-0, some of them asserted that agencies such as the Santa Barbara Airport, the Goleta Sanitary District and other utility companies whose infrastructure the county has been protecting with its dollars should help foot the bill.
Chapjian told the board that his staff would return this summer after stakeholder input with a menu of options and protective measures for a permanent solution.
The policy and strategies the county pursues would then be the board’s call.