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.)

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Mavericks Competition Soon & Surf Photos from November 2008

According to a KGO-TV report, the  Mavericks surf contest could happen Monday. According to Mark Sponsler, surfer and developer of the surf forecasting tool Stormsurf.com, “For Mavericks, we need continuous waves that are twenty feet high or more.”

I’ve seen the big surf at the Mavericks break and it is beautiful and overwhelming and awesome; some day I’d like to get out on the photographer’s boat with a 400mm or 500mm tele and get some real photos of it. You can see what I got from Pillar Point in November 2008 on Flickr and below, on this Cooliris Photo Wall.

(Neat thing to do with this wall… click the top left photo and it will zoom to fill the wall. Now tap the down arrow key on your keyboard to see the next picture. If your mouse is over the picture, you can read the text I provided for each image.)

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Engineers Make New Plans to Save Crumbling Pacifica Cliff

Tuesday 1/5/2010. KRON 4 report from their 5:30 AM newscast “Engineers Make New Plans to Save Crumbling Pacifica Cliff” (no direct link, just try their home page).

Engineers met Monday to plan conclusion of the rock rip rap and start of emergency bluff stabilization below 330 Esplanade. The neighboring building, 320 Esplanade was inspected and measured, and there were no plans to evacuate it. 330 Esplanade is almost stabilized but there are no plans to allow residents back. Highlights from the video:

  • most work on the rock rip rap is complete
  • no mention of adding 10-ton boulders to the 4-ton rock as was mentioned in their report from yesterday noon
  • engineers measured the bluff around 320
  • no plans to evacuate 320
  • confirms that the next phase will probably include soil nails (long metal rods) and retaining plates for the bluff below 330
  • workers to use the crane to work on the bluff, though drilling and driving the soil nails from a moving basket sounds difficult
  • no word on when the next phase will start, but keeping the crane here must be expensive, so figure it to be ASAP
  • good video showing the loss of bluff behind 320 resulting from Saturday’s fall
  • no mention of any work planned for 320
  • no mention of moving 330 back from the street
  • no mention of allowing residents into 330
  • sad interview of an ex-resident of 330 who wanted to get back into her apartment to get some stuff out of the kitchen
  • no plans for residents to return to 330 yet

(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 photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.)

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April 2009 Coastal Commission Permit Approval for Rip Rap

In a recent Pacifica Riptide article Coastal Commission: Esplanade Bluff and Riprap we get a link to the north central coast district Deputy Director’s report from April 10, 2009. The Deputy Director determined that installation of rock rip rap below 310 – 340 Esplanade did not require a coastal development permit… “because the development is necessary to protect life and public property or to maintain public services.”

As I read through the report (included below, or here Deputy Director’s Report, North Central Coast, April 10, 2009 (F3-4-2009), or go to the Riptide article for a link to the official PDF) these were some of the questions and issues that came to my mind:

  • This decision cleared the way for the work done last summer for 310 through 340. No rock was put down below 330, though.
  • 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 below.) I’ve searched all over, in the Coastal Commission website and out, and can’t find permit “2-03-018”. This is unfortunate since we’ve heard various players refer to “Phase 2” without having it defined.

(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 photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.)

Here is an excerpt from the Deputy Director’s report:

EMERGENCY PERMITS

1. 2-09-002-G Millard Tong; Farshid Samsami; C/O San Mateo Real Estate & Construction, Inc., Attn: Dennis Thomas (Pacifica, San Mateo County)

REPORT OF EMERGENCY PERMITS

The Executive Director has determined that the following developments do not require a coastal development permit pursuant to Section 13142 of the California Code of Regulations because the devlopment is necessary to protect life and public property or to maintain public services.
Applicant
Project Description
Project Location
2-09-002-G
Millard Tong
Farshid Samsami
C/O San Mateo Real Estate
& Construction, Inc., Attn:
Dennis Thomas
Installation of approximately 6,000 tons of rock rip rap at the toe of the bluff. Rock will be stockpiled on City-owned property at intersection of Esplanade Ave. and West Manor Road. Access to the beach for installation will occur from the same City property. 310 – 340 Esplanade Avenue, Pacifica (San Mateo County)

Following is the relevant content from the Deputy Director’s report.

[…]

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Aerial Photos of 330 Esplanade in 1972 and 2009

Dave Blackman, DB Construction, sent in this amazing photo from 1972 showing the bluffs in front of the buildings on Esplanade, including a paved coastal trail, and an entire white-building that is already gone. (Click the image for a larger size)

Photo Credit: David Blackman, DB Construction

Compare that with an aerial photo from the California Coastal Records Project taken Thu Oct 1 15:02:37 2009. (See the full size image, as well adjacent images to the north and south (and indeed, the entire California coast) on the California Coastal Records Project website.)

California Coastal Records Project. Copyright © 2009 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman. All rights reserved.

(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 photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.)

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Collapse behind 320 Esplanade

12:00 Midnight Saturday December 2, 2009. In a report at about 5:00 PM Saturday  Local news KTVU Channel 2 picked up on the substantial new cliff fall I mentioned earlier in the day, and added some useful additional details. The key points were:

  • This took place behind 320 Esplanade, the building next door to the one that had been evacuated.
  • Residents and neighbors were worried but the chief engineer was not overly concerned. “We didn’t want to see it go. We were hoping that it wouldn’t but it did and it’s not really the end of the world at this point…looks worse than it is,” said Tony Fortunato and engineer with Engineered Soil Repairs. Fortunato said, unlike the condemned apartment building, enough cliff-side still remained behind the neighboring building.
  • Nevertheless, it was significant. According to the report, approximately a ten by thirty foot long section of cliff-side collapsed.

See the KTVU report for details: Huge Chunk Of Pacifica Cliff-Side Falls In Ocean.

(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 photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.)

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Friday January 1, 2010 – Additional Fall Behind 330 Esplanade

Friday January 1, 2010

Alarming and sad news from Pacifica Riptide, Cliffhanger: Esplanade Continues to Crumble. Since yesterday an additional large section of earth has dropped away from the north end of 330 Esplanade.

In this image I’ve added dates and green and red circles to highlight the newly lost dirt. Click the image for a larger size. See the Pacifica Riptide item for the original full-size images.

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Pacifica cliff no longer in emergency state (soil nails)

Wednesday December 30, 2009

  • ABC7 KGO-TV Focus of Pacifica cliff repair shifts to second phase. Great story, knits together the end of the emergency phase one repairs and the plans for phase two work to reinforce the top of the cliff.
    • “330 is pretty much completed. Coastal Commission came down and looked at it. We’re going to tune it up a little bit per their requirements,” said engineer Tony Fortunato. The engineers are reviewing several methods for stabilizing the still-eroding top of the cliff. The one they will probably go with is called a “Soil Nailing System.” The City of Pacifica still has to approve the use of a horizontal steel rod system and engineers have to pre-determine precisely what angle to insert them to hold the soil together. If permits are fast-tracked the work could begin in a couple days.
  • SF Examiner, Pacifica cliff no longer in emergency state. According to Tony Fortunato, superintendent at Engineered Soil Repairs Inc., the company hired to put the boulders in place, “The upper bluff is falling as well,” Fortunato said. “We have to fix that somehow.” He said the crews have been considering inserting soil nails, or large metal rods, into the cliff to stabilize it, but said he doesn’t know how long that process would take.
    Perhaps the quote from yesterday’s KGO-TV story was in error when it referred to using metal plates or sheets at the top of the cliff.
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Weather and waves hamper cliffside progress

Tuesday December 29, 2009

  • This KGO-TV story from last night, Weather and waves hamper cliffside progress, included a number of nuggets:

    • On December 18th, the day after the cliff collapse that triggered residents’ evacuation, a helicopter cameraman showed a minimum of 6 feet of bluff-top remaining behind 330 Esplanade. A similar view 10 days later (yesterday / Monday) showed that the bluff had dropped entirely away behind more than 30 feet of the building.
    • The sand surface of the rock road is rebuilt in order for metal-tracked vehicles to be able to use it. I got a close up view of the tough little Marooka dump truck (see it on Flickr) they’re using to haul sand and rock, and it does indeed have rubber tracks.
    • And this quote provided hope that the building may be saved for a while longer, at least:
      At the top of the bluff, crews are planning to embed sheets of steel that will allow them to rebuild at least some of the cliff that is lost — the most critical section right at the base of the patio at 330 Esplanade.
  • Thanks to Pacifica Riptide for a good picture of the cliff behind 330 Esplanade showing sheer drop behind the building. The loss of all of the remaining bluff above the cliff puts the building in grave danger while at the same time greatly increasing the cost of remediation. A sea wall could still be built but now it would have to be much taller. Possibly more complex, too – don’t know.

    Photo by Lionel Emde via Pacifica Riptide
    December 28, 2009: threatened Esplanade Avenue apartment building, revealing new loss of land at the top of the bluff. See the Pacifica Riptide post Sisyphean Task: Pushing Pebbles into the Pacific for a photo essay documenting the painstaking process of lifting rock to the cliff base. The author of the essay scoffs at the effort of moving rock this way, ridiculing in a knowing way that the effort is futile. Good images. I had a minor quibble with the text though – struck me as cliched and mean-spirited.

  • I grow more convinced day by day that it’s just a matter of time, as quickly as a few months, and the building will be demolished.
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Covering the rock road with sand – Image Gallery

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 photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade.

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Work Continues Behind 330 Esplanade

Sunday December 27, 2009

  • 3:50 PM SFExaminer.com: Crews pile rocks to try to save Pacifica cliff. From the article:
    “We’ll be here all week,” Fortunato said. “We’re in pretty good shape now, but we got pounded pretty heavily yesterday,” he said of high surf and powerful waves that slowed down the work Saturday. He said that on Monday they will begin using the crane again to hoist the rocks over the apartment buildings to the base of the cliff.
  • 3:40 PM – ABC 7 report. Highlight was the excavator working on the sand and backing down the beach into the surf. Tony Fortunato said work was “hammered” by weather and waves yesterday but didn’t say that really all they’re doing today is rebuilding the road washed out overnight, Crews continue moving rocks to Pacifica cliff.
  • 3:00 PM – No crane operations today, not sure why. A lot of activity over at Chit Chat at Manor. Load after load of rock trucked in and stacked into an impressive mountain. A tracked dump truck made numerous runs down the new road with sand before switching to rock. Looking at the road from next to 330 we don’t see any activity yet. Looks like they’re rebuilding the road. I do mean rebuilding because it was done and smooth last night. (I have pictures of it that I hope to post later or first thing Monday.)
  • 9:00 AM – sunny, pretty impressive surf, quiet. The sand surface of the road down on the beach is GONE. Rock is still there of course, but only something fairly agile will be able to cross to the base of 330. The crane and machines aren’t running up on Esplanade this morning. Perhaps they’re waiting for the tide to recede?
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Merry Christmas, Not a Holiday, Wishes

Friday December 25, 2009

  • MERRY CHRISTMAS!
  • Work with the crane on Esplanade got started bright and early, 7:00. We can’t see the water’s edge from here, so I can’t tell if the trucks are carrying rock down on the new beach road.
  • Latest speculation / wishful thinking heard in the neighborhood: move the building back towards the street.
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