After the Initial Crisis, Questions about Direction and Cost

As work on the rock rip rap installed and built-up at the base of bluffs behind the apartment buildings on Esplanade Ave in Pacifica wraps up, attention turned to the options, stumbling blocks, and costs of permanent repairs.

Julia Scott of the San Mateo County Times reported this evening on making the buildings safe to be occupied in an excellent article, Owners face costly options for saving imperiled Pacifica apartment complex.

I’ll summarize the highlights that caught my eye and editorialize and extrapolate a bit, but there’s a lot more to Ms. Scott’s fine article and I urge you to read it yourself.

Apparently the near-total loss of the bluff behind 330 Esplanade means that a sea-wall at the beach, the seemingly typical approach to reverse and prevent damage from waves and tide, will not be enough to make the building habitable. Work will have to be done at the top of the cliff to reinforce and hold it. Before any work could start though, plans need to be drafted and then presented to the Coastal Commission for a work permit. In addition to the time required just to get the permit, this approach appears to face several major problems: it’s expensive and the building owner hasn’t approved the cost; it would be necessary to convince Pacifica officials to allow residents to return without the buffer of the wider bluff-top; and, owners of neighboring buildings may be asked to spend their own money to extend the repair along the bluff.

Meanwhile the neighboring buildings do not seem to be facing a similar threat from the collapsing bluff. Even though a noteworthy chunk of cliff dropped away from the south behind 320 Esplanade, engineers did not see it as serious. “Unfortunate,” Tony Fortunato of Engineered Soil Repairs called it, and the property was thoroughly inspected and measured, but the work on the rock rip rap at the base of the bluff was judged to be good enough to protect the building.

Doing nothing beyond the rip rap is not an option for the owners of 330 Esplanade according to Steve O’Connor of Engineered Soil Repairs: “they can’t just leave it unrepaired because it’s going to threaten the neighbors and the road. They do have some responsibility to prevent this from impinging on others.” I’ve seen the cliff behind 330 Esplanade and I agree that doing nothing is not an option, but I’m not sure that the owners of that building are the ones who will step up and do something.

The silence from the owners of 330 Esplanade seems noteworthy to me, though I guess reporters such as Ms. Scott are getting plenty of current information from the company hired to do the work, Engineered Soil Repairs, and a representative, possibly the building manager (I’m not sure), Bart Willoughby. Apparently there are more meetings between the engineers, the owners and the city planned for this week, so perhaps we’ll know more soon.

Beyond engineers and regulations, permits and plans, there is so much that has not been discussed or revealed that I barely know where to start. Why was no rock put at the shore behind 330 Esplanade this summer, when rock was put behind the other buildings? Isn’t “doing nothing” almost certainly a very viable option for the owners of 330 Esplanade? The building is no longer a profitable business, at least for quite some time to come. Couldn’t they just default on a mortgage, walk away, or do something else that would require the property to be foreclosed. Once the property is the bank’s or Pacifica’s hands, wouldn’t they just demolish it and be done with the whole problem? (Maybe that’s too simple because the bluff erosion is already threatening the neighboring buildings, but no one has said that yet.) I understand that several property owners along Esplanade already have an outstanding permit application before the Coastal Commission for the bluff; what is that work for, and what is the status of the application? (I’m not certain but Ms. Scott may already have answered this here.) Finally – where are the lawyers? This is California, isn’t it?

(NOTE: This post is part of my coverage of the cliff erosion and collapse at 330 Esplanade Ave, Pacifica. For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.)

2 Responses to After the Initial Crisis, Questions about Direction and Cost

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