What happens next may depend upon the building

KTVU.com, PACIFICA: Owners Of Cliffside Home May Pay For Guard Against Forces Of Nature [John Fowler] – Video – KTVU San Francisco

According to this KTVU story the emergency repairs that added rock rip rap to base of the bluff are all but done, and it is time for owners of the effected buildings along Esplanade Ave. to decide what sort of permanent fix should be done. Today engineers and the building owners met to review options and prices, and a follow-up meeting to discuss owners’ decision is planned for the beginning of next week. The story quotes an estimated cost for repairs at about $1 million and supposes that the cost might possibly be shared by 4 owners. Aside from some pretty pictures and an ominous mention of high waves this weekend (it’s winter and it’s the Pacific – can you say potential for “Mavericks” surf competition?) that’s about it.

Unfortunately, John Fowler, the correspondent in the piece, did not address the critical difference between the problems faced by the 330 Esplanade owners, and that of the neighboring buildings along the bluff. Mr. Fowler also did not mention a permit application already before the Coastal Commission, but it’s unclear to me whether that will ultimately matter much.

330 Esplanade had been “red tagged” – deemed unsafe for human occupancy – and the rock had only stabilized the building’s structure. According to Pacifica (building inspector? sorry, I’m not sure), people will not be allowed back inside until a permanent fix is in place. The neighboring buildings along the bluff were probably never in danger, though the rock rip rap behind them was built up, too. At this point they don’t seem to need any more attention to weather the rest of the winter.

So the owners of 330 Esplanade urgently need 40 foot horizontal soil nails to reinforce the top of the bluff, stronger wave-level armoring, and possibly a full-height concrete sea wall. All that does sound expensive. Meanwhile the other owners may have no urgent need for work to rescue their property at all. No urgent need, but in fact the other buildings do need additional work done to the bluff.

The building owners are currently waiting for the Coastal Commission to take action on a permit application dating back to late 2008 or early 2009. While I have not seen the application myself it has been reported to include sinking a concrete wall 15 feet below sea level to deflect the velocity of the ocean’s waves, and a concrete-and-steel stitch pier retaining wall sunk into the top of the cliff to hold the bluff together. I understand the owners expect to get the permit approved and planned to get the work done this summer, perhaps starting in June.

Since I don’t know more, and I’m neither a part of the engineering team nor a building owner, I can’t judge how similar or different the urgent work is versus the planned permit before the Coastal Commission. I also don’t know if the existing permit application complicates things for the owners. Also unknown (to me) – can the new work be OK’d as emergency repairs, since that seemingly short-circuits the normal slow / conservative Coastal Commission, and would that allow the pending work to start as well? I think it’s safe to guess that work done on an emergency basis during the winter will cost more than if it’s scheduled and during the summer.

Given the different challenges facing the owners of 330 Esplanade and the other owners on the street, I would not be surprised to hear that they want to take different actions, and spend different amounts of money.

The KTVU story’s conclusion was quite correct, we need to wait to hear what the owners decide.

(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.)

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