A view off the coast of Isla Vista shows the eroding cliffs (Sept. 15, 2015)
Paul Wellman

In the 20 years he has owned his oceanside house on Del Playa Drive, Mark Juergensmeyer said he lost 20 feet of property from cliff erosion. “But it’s erratic,” the UCSB sociology professor said. “Neighbors have lost very little footage in the same period of time. And maybe now my cliff front will stabilize and I’ll have little erosion for years.”

With the recent Southern California rainfall a possible preview for the upcoming El Niño winter, county officials touched on the longtime problem of Isla Vista cliff erosion this week.

In August, the parent of a student reported to the county that a big chunk of ground crumbled off the cliff at 6707 Del Playa Drive, taking down a fence. The area has since been barricaded, according to county officials; a new fence was constructed five feet from the cliff.

Steve Mason, assistant director at the county’s planning and development department, said inspectors do annual monitoring along Del Playa, after each “significant weather event,” or if they receive a witness report. “If we have lots of storms [this winter], we’ll be out there following those,” Mason said. “We crafted this program just for [Isla Vista] because of the density of the housing and where they are. There are lots of people living in these houses and the nature that they are stacked up on the edge of the bluff.” Earthquake risks are not addressed in the program.

The purpose of the board hearing this week was an update on the emergency permit that was issued in May for oceanside 6600 Del Playa Drive. The permit is to demolish the rear 30 feet of the apartment after a sizable boulder (15 feet tall, 45 feet wide, and three feet deep) slid off into the ocean earlier this year. The rear concrete patio was perched about three feet over the cliff face and a portion of the apartment building was about five feet from the edge of the cliff. The permit allowed owner John Abedi to construct a south-facing wall to stabilize the building.

According to Mason, inspectors first start to work with property owners when the building is 15 feet away from the edge of the cliff. If no action is taken and the bluff retreats to 10 feet away, code enforcement begins. If the owner does not address the issue, they are fined. If the bluff retreats farther, they may be ordered to vacate the property.

Juergensmeyer added that this winter will be a challenge — the last time he lost a huge chunk was 15 years ago during the last big El Niño. As for the future, Juergensmeyer said the simple answer is no one knows. “In the meantime, like life on DP itself, we enjoy what we have while we have it.”


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