"We knew sand berms just wouldn't cut it," said Ed de la Torre, of Friends of Goleta Beach Park.

The battle for Goleta Beach Park was set to take a new turn this month, but a last minute permit amendment should put off any changes until August. While El Niño didn’t bring the rain most had hoped for, it did bring a sharp increase in storms — storms that battered the beach this season, causing an incredible amount of damage.

To protect parking lots 6 and 7, as well as the picnic tables, geotextile bags were installed a few feet under the sand. They were then built back up to create larger sand berms on top of them. But some, like Friends of Goleta Beach Park advocate Ed de la Torre, feel that these “soft” solutions to erosion weren’t enough. “We knew sand berms just wouldn’t cut it,” he said.

A last minute permit amendment postponed debate over how to manage erosion at Goleta Beach Park.

Most of the park’s west side that runs along Highway 217 is protected by a series of sanctioned and unsanctioned rock revetment walls. A few were installed under emergency permits by the county after severe storm damage eroded the beach in the last decade. De la Torre wants to see the permitting extended to protect more of the beach, as well as keep the current protective walls in place. The rock walls stretch for hundreds of feet along the beach, but one permit condition says they must be covered by sand.

AMEC Foster Wheeler, an environment and infrastructure company, prepared an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the county. In the report, AMEC said that sand should naturally re-cover the rock walls over time. However, according to both sides of the debate, the sand is washed away within weeks. As the tides wash away the sand, the county must enlist dump trucks to cover the rock walls every six months, or they risk losing them.

De la Torre doesn’t want the emergency permits extended temporarily. He wants them added to the permit, and the Board of Supervisors agrees with him. The board this week sent their proposal to amend the permit to the California Coastal Commission (CCC), but they don’t expect to get on the CCC’s agenda for another three months. While the county awaits an answer, the park’s future remains up in the air.

Everett Lipman, a UCSB physics professor and Surfrider Foundation member, was disappointed in the board’s decision. “What Goleta Beach needs is a carefully thought-out, adaptive management plan that avoids further ‘hard armoring,’” he said in a statement to the board.

Groups like Surfrider and the Environmental Defense Center feel the study made crucial mistakes. Pointing out that the study cost the county about a quarter-million dollars, Lipman called the “nonsense predictions” a waste of money.

A series of sanctioned and unsanctioned rock revetment walls protect the park from ocean tides and sea storms.

“This solution doesn’t do what they claimed it would do,” Lipman said. “The rock walls have never been covered, and they don’t get recovered naturally.” These “hard” and “soft” solutions to erosion are central to the debate around how to simultaneously protect the ocean and the park, used by over a million-and-a-half people each year.

In addition to shielding the park, the utility lines — water and gas included — running underneath are also in danger of being destroyed. It could cost the county millions to remove and replace them all.

De la Torre still thinks the county is doing a great job. He “just wants to see them keep doing it.”


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