On Tuesday evening, the Goleta City Council unanimously approved a letter to the California Coastal Commission endorsing Santa Barbara County’s plan to construct a permeable pile pier to control beach erosion at Goleta Beach County Park. Councilmember Michael Bennett was selected to speak about the issue on the city’s behalf when it goes before the Coastal Commission in early July.
Over the past couple of decades, several winter storm seasons have caused heavy erosion at Goleta Beach. As the most heavily used park administered by Santa Barbara County, many county officials and area residents were concerned that without protection, the popular beach park would be washed away by heavy surf. Several times, the Parks Department secured emergency permits from the Coastal Commission to place boulders on the beach, most of which still remain. More permanent solutions were bandied about, including placing breakwaters or groins – rock walls that run parallel to the beach offshore, or perpendicular to the shoreline – but environmental groups protested that hard armoring was destructive to nearby beaches. Evidence had been presented from other locales that armoring disrupted the movement of sand which naturally replenishes the beaches.
Many objected to the alternative – an option called “managed retreat” that moved buildings and infrastructure away from the beach, allowing a natural storm buffer – as being an abandonment of protection for the beach. Though environmental groups are still pressing for a reconfiguration of the park that would allow for natural fluctuations of the beach based upon a 30-year cycle of shoreline retreat and advance, the county has adopted the permeable pile pier alternative. Using movable pilings that would be installed next to Goleta Pier, the permeable pile pier is supposed to limit the movement of sand down the coast, allowing Goleta Beach to build up and slowing the movement of sand away from the beach, thereby protecting it from winter storms.
As a condition of placing a hard structure such as a permeable pile pier, the county agreed to remove rocks currently on the beach, excepting the ones lining the front of the Beachside Cafe. Dan Secord, an alternate on the Coastal Commission who will vote on the issue in July, spoke at this week’s City Council meeting, positing that the effectiveness of the permeable pile pier should be ascertained before the rocks are removed. “It’s kind of a belt and suspenders deal,” he said. “There’s nothing else protecting the park, and right behind the beach is the  freeway and the … airport, so it’s of material interest to protect it.” Though he did not know how much time would be needed to determine whether or not the pile solution works, Secord suggested regular surveys using a global positioning system to monitor beach erosion.
The Coastal Commission will meet July 8-10 in San Luis Obispo County’s Board of Supervisors chambers.