Santa Barbara County Wrangles Over Future Of Popular Beach Facing Major Erosion Issues

Aug 23, 2017

It’s one of the most popular beaches on the South Coast, attracting an estimated 1.5 million visitors a year.

But, Santa Barbara County has spent an estimated two million dollars since 2015, and 12 million since 1995 to protect the beach, and its infrastructure like its pier, restrooms, and parking lots from storm-driven erosion. One top county leader is suggesting the county should get rid of it.

The County has been facing the question of whether it should try to keep a more than 900 foot long emergency rock revetment in place, but the ongoing costs are prompting some county leaders to question the beach’s future. Santa Barbara County Supervisor Peter Adam suggested the county should actually consider turning over the park to the state, in effect give it away, so the county wouldn’t have to deal with the mounting ongoing costs.

The subject came up as County Supervisors Tuesday considered whether they county should file an application with the State Coastal Commission to keep the 948 long rock revetment, as well as a pier revetment and one for the Goleta Sanitary District’s outfall pipe in place.

County Community Services officials recommending keeping the protections in place, noting that if they are removed, they would need to rebuilt during the next storm season. But, the ongoing costs, and the fact there’s not much sand on the beach led to some officials, and members of the public objecting to the plans.

Ken Paley, with the Surfrider Foundation, says it doesn’t make sense to pursue a policy which hasn’t worked for years. Some people brought up an idea discussed in the past, something called a managed retreat. Infrastructure like parking lots and restrooms are relocated inland, so nature can take its course on the beach. But, it’s a costly approach, with Goleta Beach home to things like a pier, a beachfront restaurant, and parking lots.

Some people say the solution is obvious, by keep the rock revetments in place, the beach will be protected. County Supervisor Janet Wolf says the most cost effective approach at this point is to keep the emergency structures.

The issue led to a hours long discussion among county supervisors. They agreed that others should be helping to foot the bill, with utility companies, UCSB, Caltrans, the Goleta Sanitary District, and Santa Barbara Airport all having key infrastructure which would be at risk without coastal storm protections at Goleta Beach.

Supervisors decided to pursue getting permit extensions to keep the rock revetments in place, while talking to other agencies about cost-sharing, and exploring whether the county could actually turn the beach over to the state.