Nature has had Goleta Beach Park in its sights for as long as anybody can remember. After all, there are just certain inescapable, eroding realities when you build a hugely popular county park wedged between the Pacific Ocean and one of the larger sloughs in the area. But with more than 1.5 million visitors enjoying the park each year, not to mention three major utility lines running beneath its parking lots, there aren’t too many folks in Santa Barbara County interested in letting the ocean and sand reclaim the neighborhood.
With this in mind, and writing the latest chapter in a twisting and turning planning process that is currently 11 years old and counting, Santa Barbara County’s supervisors plotted yet another new course of action this week that they hope — by being decidedly more eco-friendly than previous incarnations — will not just protect the park for the long haul but even work to improve it. “Goleta Beach is something we all treasure,” summed up 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, shortly before the approving votes were cast. “With this plan, we get a larger place for the beach while still maintaining or even enhancing the park itself … Who could possibly be against it?”
Well, for starters, about half of the 20 public commenters on Tuesday afternoon — including County Parks Commissioner Suzanne Perkins and Goleta City Councilmember Michael Bennett — aren’t nearly as enthused as the supes. (It should be noted that the plan was approved 3-0 with Salud Carbajal absent and Joe Centeno abstaining.) Since 1999, county officials and assorted other stakeholders have been working to develop a plan that would best ensure the park’s survival in the face of erosion. Stop-gap measures like rock walls erected on emergency permits (these permits, which were granted by the California Coastal Commission, have since expired) and truckloads of imported sand have helped keep the Pacific at bay, but a long-term solution — one that balanced environmental sensitivities with actual park-saving results — was anything but easy.
Then, in early 2008, a compromise of sorts was brokered. A bit of a gamble, the vision called for putting a series of large pilings in the sand running parallel to the existing pier in hopes of keeping much-needed sand from being swept down coast. It seemed the long-stewing problem had finally found a solution, that is, until the California Coastal Commission voted it down last summer. Sent back to square one, with marching orders from Coastal Commission staff that manmade erosion-fighting structures were going to be hard-pressed to gain approval, County Parks staffers began, in the words of Deputy Director Eric Axelson, “thinking outside of the box” to find a new solution.
Officially called “Goleta Beach 2.0,” the plan — which was approved by the county’s Parks Committee in late March — had its first major unveiling at the supervisors’ boardroom this week. Though many details remain unresolved, the basics call for removing the now illegal rock walls at the west end of the parking lot; tearing up more than an acre of asphalt closest to UCSB (roughly 150 of the 604 parking spots in the park) and thus allowing sand to eventually fill in; relocating the three utility pipes in the area (a pressurized waste pipe, a Sempre Energy gas line, and a massive reclaimed-water pipe); developing an off-site parking lot, complete with shuttle service and a water taxi that connects the lot, via the slough to the beach; providing kayak rental concessions; rerouting the bike path; and creating a new walking trail. Even better, the undertaking projects to cost roughly half the price of the permeable pier plan. “We fully believe that Goleta Beach 2.0 will be a net revenue gain for the county,” opined Axelson.
But, to hear critics tell it, the new plan — which smacks of a “managed retreat” option floated during the permeable pier Environmental Impact Review process — doesn’t do nearly enough to actually save the park as it is presently composed. Unconvinced by scientific data that increasingly shows coastal armoring (i.e., sea walls and rock revetment walls) to be a detriment to beach health, and fearful that a complete removal of the rocks at the west end of the park will spell certain death for the park while simultaneously imperiling nearby State Highway 217, several speakers during public comment took the plan to task. “The best protection of our park is the line of defense that already exists. The rocks work. That is why [the park] is still there,” explained Friends of Goleta Beach member Michael Radtree. Suzanne Perkins, who chairs the county’s Parks Commission and was the lone dissenting vote against the plan when they voted on it a few months ago, added, “This plan is like making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear … It simply does not protect.”
In the end, the supes — though all conscious of 2.0’s potential shortcomings and still-forming specifics — voted to approve the tentative plan and move it toward a brand new EIR process and full-blown engineering study. “I don’t know how to get these answers without moving this forward,” summed up the 3rd District’s Doreen Farr. “We can’t just do nothing.”