With nearly 1.4 million visitors every year, Goleta Beach is Santa Barbara County’s most popular park. On most weekends, you can expect to see people crowded around the barbecue pits and picnic pavilions, playing soccer in the grass, and relaxing on the beach. However, significant erosion caused by several El Ni±o storms in the last decade caused alarm among county officials and park users, and the county ended up placing an emergency rock wall along the beach to protect the park’s grassy open areas and utility lines, some of which were exposed by the storms. A robust debate ensued between those incensed that the county’s remedy to the problem involved temporary permits from the California Coastal Commission and others who wanted the beach saved at all costs.
One proposal placed hard structures, such as permanent rock walls, along the beach and along the length of Goleta Pier, and breakwaters offshore. An alternative championed by environmentalists-the “managed retreat”-consisted of moving utility lines and facilities away from the beach to allow for shoreline fluctuations. The County Board of Supervisors voted in January 2008 to approve a middle-of-the-road approach: a permeable pile pier consisting of a row of pilings to be installed along the eastern edge of Goleta Pier. Juan Beltranena, a project manager with the county parks department, said the supervisor-approved solution has three advantages over other alternatives. “It’s permeable, it’s adjustable and can be fine-tuned, and it can be removed,” he said, adding that computer modeling assisted engineers in coming up with the final project, which is estimated to cost $9.7 million.
The decision was met with considerable outcry by representatives from the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and the SurfÂ-rider Foundation, who had maintained that the managed-retreat option would cause little impact to the natural flow of sand and sediment along the coastline. Brian Trautwein, an analyst with EDC, said that “pulses” of sand migrate down the coast in a pattern that spans decades.
More than a year after the county supervisors made their decision, the proposal is still wending its way through the Coastal Commission approval process, but EDC is still looking for other options. Scientists from Phillip Williams & Associates, an environmental hydrology firm hired by EDC to analyze the best way to manage coastal processes at Goleta Beach, referenced a concept called “Pacific decadal oscillation” (PDO). In a cycle that shows coastline changes over multiple decades rather than the four-year cycle used in the county’s model, David Revel, a project manager from Phillip Williams, said that PDO indicates that a more natural approach can be used to deal with beach erosion. By moving utility lines and beachfront facilities, he said his team has determined how to add more acreage to the park while allowing a buffer zone for the beach to ebb and flow. “Goleta Beach is like a box; once it’s full, it passes sand down-coast. If you change the size of the box by putting a groin at Goleta Pier, you run the risk of starving down-coast beaches because it takes more sand to fill the box.”
Beltranena countered that fixing the problem isn’t as simple as moving utilities-stating that they must also be kept a certain distance away from Goleta Slough-and pointed out that the county-approved permeable pier is being reviewed by the Coastal Commission. Dave Ward, the county’s deputy director of Planning and Development, said that his department had received verbal confirmation that the commission will review the project proposal at a hearing this summer. If the commission approves it, he said it may contain conditions, but that the next steps will be the county’s permitting process and certification of its Environmental Impact Report.