Monday February 1, 2010 – Property Owners and Engineers Meet

Monday February 1, 2010

  • KRON-TV 4 (Independent) reports an additional small fall (2 feet – but how long?) behind 320 Esplanade yesterday or last night: New Concerns Emerge About Cliff Behind Pacifica Apartments. No direct link to the piece available.
  • KRON 4 also reported a meeting between contractors including Tony Fortunato of Engineered Soil Repairs and the building owners. Which owners were not specified but from the context I’d guess it was Farshid Samsami  of 330 Esplanade. The agenda was also not specified but apparently finding funds for the repairs was discussed. The story reiterated Pacifica’s refusal to pay anything until public infrastructure is threatened and FEMA’s refusal to get involved. New was mention of a $1 million fine that might be levied by the California Coastal Commission for modifications to the coastal area without permission. Also new was speculation that perhaps the project could attract Federal Stimulus money since… “after all, the project is creating jobs.”
  • No news of any decision from Millard Tong, the owner of 320 Esplanade, to commence work to shore up his building.
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Clock is Ticking for 320 Esplanade

While work progresses and the future of 330 Esplanade seems more secure, a neighboring building which experienced a very similar dirt fall awaits seemingly necessary attention.

According to this San Francisco Examiner story, “Chances of saving Pacifica apartment building increasing” the superintendent of the teams working on 330 Esplanade, Tony Fortunato, said Sunday that even though the cliff continues to erode, its chances of lasting and keeping the apartment building above are improving.

Things are going well. I’m starting to feel better every day.

Although saving 330 Esplanade from destruction is a necessary first step, it will not be sufficient for Pacifica to re-allow residence of the building. Pacifica Building Department official Doug Rider’s complete set of requirements has not been released to the press, but he has made it known that a number of additional steps need to be taken for future resident and seismic safety.

Meanwhile 320 Esplanade is partially evacuated following a significant bluff failure on Thursday January 21. Residents observed that much of 320 Esplanade actually has less bluff top remaining than 330 had when it was evacuated.

Fortunato reported that his company, Engineered Soil Repairs, has not been hired to work on 320 Esplanade Ave. Commenting on the dire progress of continued erosion beneath 330 Esplanade, Fortunato said,

Time definitely isn’t on their side.

Fortunato went on to say that his company’s next project will likely be to save and repair Lands End, a public access point down the road from the Esplanade Avenue apartments where pounding waves are also causing erosion.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: Chances of saving Pacifica apartment building increasing. See the related KTVU-TV 2 (Fox) story Apartments On Eroding Cliff Could Be Saved.

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January 27 – Work Progresses Behind 330 Esplanade


Crews continued to work long hours to drill 50′ steel rods (“soil nails”) into the bluff under 330 Esplanade. Work started at the top of the bluff in order to anchor the most fragile, crucial part of the bluff first, and to make it safe for workers lower down. In this picture taken from a KPIX-TV 5 (CBS) video you can see the major parts of the project:

  • Crew Basket. The crew is hanging from a big crane, extended out over the vacant building. We wonder if that crane is allowed to operate above an occupied building, such as neighboring 320 Esplanade.
  • Drill and Grout. As the crew drills the 50′ long rods into the bluff, the hole is filled in with a cement grout.
  • Steel plates. Once the rod is embedded in the bluff with grout, the hole is capped and the bluff is anchored with a rectangular steel plate.
  • Sprayed cement. As the work progresses, the crew seals the sandy dirt face of the bluff with sprayed cement.

See all of my pictures of the Esplanade crisis:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/collections/72157622920945823/

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.
http://adequatebird.com/2009/12/17/evacuation-underway-at-330-esplanade/

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Answers To Requests for Financial Assistance: No, At Least Not Today

Yesterday a long list of officials weighed in on the availability of government financial assistance for building owners along the bluffs in Pacifica. Unfortunately they all – Congresswoman Jackie Speier, the Regional FEMA Director, Pacifica’s Mayor Sue Digre and the City Council – said ‘no’, at least for now.

During the day US Congresswoman Jackie Speier convened a nearly three-hour meeting that included local officials and FEMA’s Regional Director. During the meeting they toured the site at Esplanade and afterwards Speier said it would not be eligible for Federal aid:

There really is not FEMA money available for something that is considered a pre-existing condition and this particular stretch of Esplanade has been subject to erosion for over some period of time.

In talking with another reporter, Speier said:

FEMA cannot provide aid when there’s a pre-existing condition. There also has to be a state of emergency that has to be declared at the local, state and federal level — none of which has occurred here.

Speier met with city and state representatives that reportedly said that if emergency measures have to be taken to preserve public property and residents, there’s a possibility state funds may be available.

Yesterday evening, at a regularly scheduled Pacifica City Council meeting, the city said that it was disappointed Esplanade didn’t qualify for FEMA funds but it will continue to try and find more money somewhere. Residents had hoped that the Council would declare a local state of emergency, but officials said that the situation wasn’t yet bad enough to be declared a state of emergency.

So for now the individual owners of the threatened apartment buildings on Esplanade will continue to foot the bill for the emergency work.

Sources for this story:

See all of my pictures of the Esplanade crisis:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/collections/72157622920945823/

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.
http://adequatebird.com/2009/12/17/evacuation-underway-at-330-esplanade/

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Neighbors on Pacifica Cliff ask City Council for Financial Help

The primary source for the following is KGO-TV 7 (ABC) Neighbors on Pacifica cliff ask City Council for help. See their video and article for the full story.

Condo owners at the Pacific View Villas complex on Palmetto Ave and some neighboring residents next to the endangered buildings on Esplanade Ave attended Monday’s Pacifica City Council meeting, and asked for financial help. There is no rock rip rap or seawall behind their properties and the bluff has eroded significantly. Unfortunately, although the menace of the erosion trending toward their properties seems clear, paying for measures to halt the erosion does not. Owners were concerned that they could not afford a remediation project. No particular estimate for the project was mentioned but figures ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars were discussed.

This article does not mention the City Council’s response, but it does say that when it comes to the government helping out on this project or others in the future, there is not much the city can do. I guess we have to read between the lines for the reasons… private property not the City’s concern, overall lack of funds, etc.

This is not the first time other owners have stepped forward with erosion-related concerns on properties nearby Esplanade Ave. On December 29th, two days after the original bluff collapse and evacuation, Julia Scott in the San Mateo Times reported on the problems facing Joan Levin. Levin owns a home adjacent to the Pacific View Villas condos. See Scott’s article in the San Mateo County Times on insideBayArea.com for details: Pacifica woman ponders moving home away from eroding bluff.

Also on Monday, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, came to see the erosion first hand.

FEMA cannot provide aid when there’s a pre-existing condition. There also has to be a state of emergency that has to be declared at the local, state and federal level — none of which has occurred here.

See the video and accompanying article for discussion of why there’s no state of emergency, and to see the beautiful property that the owners are trying to protect.

See all of my pictures of the Esplanade crisis:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/collections/72157622920945823/

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.
http://adequatebird.com/2009/12/17/evacuation-underway-at-330-esplanade/

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Crews begin process of pasting concrete wall over cliff of Pacifica apartments

San Francisco Chronicle – SFGate, Spectators riveted as Pacifica buildings teeter

Tuesday January 26, 2010. San Mateo County Times on insideBayArea.com, Crews begin process of pasting concrete wall over cliff of Pacifica apartments, By Julia Scott

Another excellent article by Ms. Scott, but I had my doubts about whether the owner of 320 Esplanade will cooperate on extending the concrete wall behind his property. Following are some excerpts… please see her entire article for details. My thoughts about 320 Esplanade are below.

Another 20-foot-by-5-foot chunk of bluff fell away from behind 320 Esplanade on Sunday, said Fortunato. … It now appears as if the soil has started to fall out from under the building. Fortunato said that’s an illusion. Yes, the bluff is under the walkway now, but another five feet still separate it from the foundation of the apartment building.

Pacifica Building Department official Doug Rider is watching for erosion every day. He acknowledges that five feet of bluff could disappear overnight, but couldn’t really say what his criteria would be for red-tagging the rest of the apartments at 320 Esplanade. The residents at 330 Esplanade actually had more of a backyard when they were evacuated then a portion of 320 Esplanade does now. Still, Rider maintains that it is safe to live there — for now.

The owners of 320 Esplanade will almost certainly decide to extend the concrete wall onto their property as well, which would mean two construction rigs working side by side by the end of the week, said Tony Fortunato of Engineered Soil Repairs.

Here are two possible reasons I’m not sure Millard Tong, the owner of 320 and 310 Esplanade will go along with extending the concrete wall onto his property, at least not easily:

  1. The first reason is that Tong already has a permit application before the Coastal Commission for a two-phase project to shore up his buildings. Phase One was approved on April 10 2009, and the rock rip rap that was laid last summer was the result. (See the Pacifica Riptide article Coastal Commission: Esplanade Bluff and Riprap, my post April 2009 Coastal Commission Permit Approval for Rip Rap or the PDF Deputy Director’s Report, North Central Coast, April 10, 2009 (F3-4-2009).) The Decision explicitly limits the work to “Phase 1” of an existing larger project applied for under regular calendar permit 2-03-018. (See CONDITIONS OF APPROVAL item #2.) I’ve searched all over, in the Coastal Commission website, San Mateo County and elsewhere , and can’t find permit “2-03-018”.

    Although I have not seen the application myself, Phase 2 has been described as including a concrete wall rooted 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 that Tong hoped to get the permit approved and planned to get the work done this summer, perhaps starting in June. (As far as I can tell a “stitch pier” is not all that different from the soil nail system being implemented now but the scale of the project may be quite different.)

    It seems to me that a project planned well in advance, to take place during the summer, would be a lot less expensive than one done on an emergency basis during the winter. Perhaps the situation has changed and now 320 (at least) is in jeopardy, or perhaps the proximity of a crisis presents an opportunity for Tong to get the permit passed by the Coastal Commission. Barring either a crisis or an opportunity, I’d bet he’ll wait.

  2. The second reason arises from something Tony Fortunato said back on December 23rd or 24th as 330 Esplanade was being evacuated. Fortunato said that it would have been necessary to evacuate 330 even if Pacifica hadn’t red-tagged it because the crane could not operate above an occupied building. If this is true, then Tong would have to house his tenants off-site during the project, or close his building entirely. Again, I don’t see him volunteering for that, at least not lightly.

I guess we can wait and see what happens – time will tell what the owners decide – but I’d really love to see that two phase permit, “2-03-018”.

See all of my pictures of the Esplanade crisis:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/collections/72157622920945823/

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.
http://adequatebird.com/2009/12/17/evacuation-underway-at-330-esplanade/

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Work Scheduled to Start Today – Monday 1/25/10 3:00 PM

Monday 1/25/10 3:00 PM

  • KGO-TV 7 (ABC): Chunk of eroding Pacifica cliff falls into the ocean – Wayne Freedman. Interesting to learn that crews hope to begin covering the upper part of the bluff behind 330 Esplanade with steel plates later this afternoon, and then to fill behind the plates with grout to cement the dirt in place. The plan is to insert 250 rods 50 feet horizontally into the cliff and create a giant sea wall by coating the cliff face with fiber-reinforced concrete. Two groaners in this article, at least for me:
    • How much dirt fell this morning and behind which building? I would guess it was not 320 Esplanade judging by the lack of any new “…residents nervous / moving out” type stories. “Smaller than the one last week but still worrisome.” Great video of the cliff and it’s nice to see Tony Fortunato on camera. But overall – yuck.
    • The web text accompanying the video ends with an odd sentence that needed clarification: “The rocks placed at the base of the cliff and a proposal to build a 540 foot seawall, are estimated to cost about $4 million.” Wouldn’t that long a seawall extend behind both 330 and 320 Esplanade? If so, how can the crane operate safely above the heads of the residents remaining in 320 Esplanade?
  • See also “RAW VIDEO: SKY7 over eroding Pacifica cliff” for the latest in cliff erosion disaster-porn. Interesting thing here is the attention given to a fresh-looking fall behind 360 Esplanade.
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Sunday 01/24/10 Work on reinforcing the bluff, more rain on the way

Sunday 01/24/10 Work on reinforcing the bluff, more rain on the way

  • From Saturday, KTVU-TV 2 (Fox) PACIFICA CLIFF: Helicopter Video Of Work Beginning Saturday To Shore Up Pacifica Cliff
  • San Francisco Chronicle – SFGate, Spectators riveted as Pacifica buildings teeter. About 15 workers have been toiling through 12-hour days, drilling rebar 50 feet horizontally into the cliffs. When 250 rods have been inserted, crews plan to create a giant sea wall by coating the cliff face with fiber-reinforced concrete, a supervisor for one of the contracting firms, Drill Tech, said Sunday. Sample image, click the article link for details and more images.
  • KGO-TV 7 (ABC) City watches Pacifica apartment project – Amy Hollyfield. This piece combines a confused, incorrect description of the work to reinforce the bluff with a brief excerpt of an interview with Pacifica Mayor Sue Digre. In response to a question about the city’s role, the Mayor responded: “We have no right to tell the building owner what to do.” Ms. Hollyfield ends with an important reminder: “At this point the city hasn’t spent any money on the effort to save this cliff.”
  • 2:40 PM PST SUN JAN 24 2010. National Weather Service: Hazardous Weather Outlook.

    A HIGH SURF ADVISORY IS IN EFFECT ALONG THE COAST…STARTING AT 4 AM
    IN SONOMA COUNTY AND NOON FROM SAN FRANCISCO SOUTHWARD TO MONTEREY
    COUNTY. THE HIGH SURF ADVISORY WILL EXPIRE AT 11:59 PM MONDAY NIGHT.
    PLEASE SEE THE HIGH SURF ADVISORY PRODUCT FOR MORE DETAILS.

    * HIGH SURF ADVISORY…COASTAL HAZARD MESSAGE WHUS46 KMTR SFOCFWMTR *

    IN ADDITION TO THE HIGH SURF…PERIODS OF RAIN ARE FORECAST THROUGH
    TUESDAY WITH THE HEAVIEST RAIN EXPECTED MONDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING.
    THERE IS ALSO A SLIGHT CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS ON TUESDAY. THE SOIL
    IS SATURATED AFTER A WEEK OF SIGNIFICANT RAINFALL. THEREFORE…
    ADDITIONAL RAINFALL WILL RESULT IN RAPID RUNOFF. STREAMS AND CREEKS
    ACROSS THE AREA WILL RISE QUICKLY IN RESPONSE TO HEAVY RAINFALL.
    MINOR URBAN AND SMALL STREAM FLOODING IS POSSIBLE…ESPECIALLY ON
    MONDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING.

    =============================

    HIGH SURF ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 4 AM MONDAY TO MIDNIGHT PST MONDAY NIGHT…

    A HIGH ENERGY WAVE TRAIN IS EXPECTED TO BRING LARGE WAVES TO THE
    NORTH COAST BY DAWN MONDAY MORNING. THESE LARGE NORTHWEST SWELL
    WILL PERSIST ALONG THE COASTAL WATERS THROUGH MONDAY AND WILL
    RANGE FROM 13 TO 15 FEET WITH PERIODS OF 16 SECONDS. SWELL OF THIS
    SIZE WILL PRODUCE LARGE BREAKING WAVES AND STRONG RIP CURRENTS
    WITHIN THE SURF ZONE.

All of my pictures on the Esplanade evacuations:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/collections/72157622920945823/

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.
http://adequatebird.com/2009/12/17/evacuation-underway-at-330-esplanade/

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Weekend Wrap-Up (Thursday to Sunday, January 21 to 24, 2010)

Weekend Wrap-Up (Thursday to Sunday, January 21 to 24, 2010)

  • 320 Esplanade imperiled. On Thursday the cement walkway, safety railing and bluff behind 3 apartments in 320 Esplanade collapsed into the surf. Pacifica’s Doug Rider, Chief Building Official, “red tags” the building as unsafe and residents are evicted… from just the affected apartments. (A total of 6 units were vacated: 3 on the first floor, and 3 on the second floor).
  • We move out, but don’t go far. Enough’s enough. Enough of losing the safety margin behind the apartment and enough of early morning pounding on the door. See the scary pictures and our personal time-line.
  • Owners decided to save 330 Esplanade. On Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle’s website SFGate reported that the owners decided to ante up the > $1 million needed stabilize the full height of the bluff, Spectators riveted as Pacifica buildings teeter. Questions remain about whether the owner of 330 Esplanade will sign on for similar work behind his building, and whether he can without forcing the evacuation of the remaining residents.
  • Storms continue, but without the 20+ foot surf that threatened the bluff.
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Why We Left 320 Esplanade (Photo Gallery)

We were not required to evacuate 320 Esplanade but decided to leave once we saw the scary state of the remaining bluff behind the building.

See these pictures on Flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/sets/72157623145272267/detail/

All of my pictures on the Esplanade evacuations:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/collections/72157622920945823/

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.
http://adequatebird.com/2009/12/17/evacuation-underway-at-330-esplanade/

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Thursday 01/21/10 – 320 Esplanade partially red-tagged and we move out

5:15 or so Thursday morning: a knock at the door, “the bluff had fallen away from the back of 320 Esplanade.” Sleepy, worried, we wondered: do we need to leave now? Then we saw that the ice plant-covered bluff, railing and cement walkway had entirely fallen away from behind the three apartments closest to the vacant, red-tagged building at 330 Esplanade. [See for yourself, Why We Left 320 Esplanade (Photo Gallery).] No question in our minds… even if Doug Rider, Chief Building Official of the city of Pacifica, told us we could stay – we were done. Enough of worrying if the cliff would fall away each night as we went to bed.

Thursday 1/21/2010 Chronology of events, as well as we remember them:

  • Approximately 3:00 AM Friday a lot of the bluff fell away into the rock and surf.
  • 6:00 AM – we get out back to see for ourselves. 45 feet of cement walkway and railing are gone. Since the apartments were 15′ wide, this meant just about exactly 3 apartments-worth of bluff + railing + cement had fallen. Later we heard that 60 to 80 feet total may have fallen but from just our vantage just above the bluff it’s actually hard to tell.
  • I have pictures of the broken railing and missing bluff, and will update this post when I get them uploaded. UPDATE: Pictures are here, Why We Left 320 Esplanade (Photo Gallery).
  • 6:30 AM – voluntary evacuation. Residents of the apartments with the missing cement and railings should clear out. Since 320 Esplanade is two storeys, this meant that 6 apartments should be vacated. We’re not in any of those apartments, but close.
  • 7:30 AM – we’re packing and discussing the situation. We decide once we realize that we’ve had enough of surprises and diminishing safety margins. Calls go out to the moving company that we had on stand-by and friends.
  • Approximately 8:00 to 11:00. PG&E concerned about a pipe rupture wants to shut down service to the entire building. A way is found to shut off just the affected part of the building, and gas is left on for the rest of the building. Apparently if the gas had been shut off, then the entire building would have been red-tagged.
  • 9:00 AM – the rental office at a close-by complex opens. Good news! The apartment we had liked best when we had done all of our looking and exploring back in late December was still available.
  • Approximately 9:00 to 11:00 – Doug Rider, Chief Building Official of the city of Pacifica, changes the voluntary evacuation to a mandatory one. Red tags are a fixed to all 6 doors.
  • An aside: we were incredulous about this decision. It made as much sense to us as would being “a little bit pregnant”. Our only explanation for this is that the engineers and city must plan to monitor the situation so closely that residents will be warned before anything bad can happen.
  • 11:00 – our movers arrive and we start boxing and moving.
  • Of course the time line continued well into Thursday night since we had to box everything, take two trips with the truck, and figure out what to do with a 30 year old but sweet-sounding, well loved piano.

All of my pictures on the Esplanade evacuations:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisd2006/collections/72157622920945823/

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.
http://adequatebird.com/2009/12/17/evacuation-underway-at-330-esplanade/

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Continued to Stand Fast – January 20

Despite rain, hail, winds and surf the buildings along Esplanade Avenue in Pacifica continued to stand fast. Attention shifted to the dramatic and photogenic grassy area north of the buildings, but residents are unconcerned with that.

  • KPIX-TV 5 (CBS) Pacifica Cliff Holding Up Despite Storms
  • Tattered tarp. Although engineers had reassured residents and the press that neither ground water nor rain were significant causes of erosion for the raw and newly exposed bluff behind 330 Esplanade, crews final preparations for this weeks storms was to drape the bluff with 80′ tarps. Those tarps are now in tatters and the bluff entirely exposed.
  • Media reported that owners decided today they are going to apply for an emergency permit to put boulders at the base of this cliff across from the Lands End apartment in an attempt to halt the erosion of the grassy area I call the dog park. Apparently they hope to get started by the end of the week. They are concerned the entire walkway will fall into the ocean.
  • From the blog the pelican eye, Pacifica bluff continues to recede: 1/20/10, came this photo:

    Photo by Sabrina Brennan. Click here for more images.
  • KTVU-TV 2 (Fox): PACIFICA: Driving Rain Batters Cliffs As Another 10 Feet Crumble Into The Sea [John Fowler] – Video. Brief, dramatic shot at about 53 seconds of the black tarps draped behind 330 Esplanade whipped up into the air above the building.
  • Meanwhile just 100 yards south of my office was this, from KGO-TV 7 (ABC) Creek overflow floods Peninsula businesses. Lucky for me the overflowing creek came no further north than this underpass.

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. You can see all of the pictures I’ve taken along Esplanade on Flickr at Evacuations at 330 Esplanade.

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