Cratering along the shore at Goleta Beach Park shows the effects of winter storms.
Art Sylvester

The Santa Barbara County Supervisors decided this week to petition the California Coastal Commission to retain 950 feet of emergency boulders along Goleta Beach.

In March, after weeks of heavy surf pounded the shore and chewed up grassland, county staff quickly installed emergency rock revetment to shore up the beach park. It wasn’t cheap. The county supervisors — somewhat reluctantly — approved what turned out to be a nearly $1 million job.

Now there are just small patches of green grass, and the sandy beach is nearly nonexistent. “You’d have to be a pretty skinny kid to play on the beach,” joked County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.

While proponents with Friends of Goleta Beach Park say the rocks save the county’s most popular beach park, much frequented by low-income residents, environmentalists argue the “armor” destroys the beach and harms surrounding habitats.

On Tuesday, the debate was somewhat convoluted. County Supervisor Janet Wolf, whose district includes Goleta, acknowledged the money the county has over the years poured into the beach park. Keeping the rocks in place, she said, is currently the cheapest option and protects the beach park.

But winter storms aren’t about to go away. “I think we need to stop spending money,” North County Supervisor Peter Adam said. Similarly, Lavagnino claimed the county has spent $17 million in 20 years on the South Coast land. He called that a “tough pill” for his Santa Maria constituents to swallow. But they reluctantly agreed to retain the rocks.

“It’s either continue to spend an inordinate amount of money protecting the park, eliminating the beach, or taking out the rocks and wiping out a lot of the infrastructure we’ve put in there,” Lavagnino said. “I’m kind of at a loss.”

County Supervisor Das Williams, however, was a solid dissenter. “This is just continuing the same direction,” he said. At one point, Williams seemed to side with his conservative colleagues. He and Lavagnino joked that no other park in Santa Barbara County would get the same treatment.

Williams advocated for a plan that has been long championed by Surfrider. It would install cobble berms on the west side where there are currently parking lots. “I think the beach is more important than [parking] lots six and seven,” he said, adding that many visitors to UC Santa Barbara park in those lots to circumvent the parking fees on campus.

In addition, Williams questioned whether or not the Coastal Commission would actually approve the permit, claiming they “never” cooperate with the county.

The supervisors also talked about asking the nearby agencies, including UCSB, the Goleta West Sanitary District, and the City of Santa Barbara for money. They all have a vested interest. Another possibility thrown out by the North County supervisors was to give the county beach park back to the state. It is unclear how feasible that would be.


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