The deck of 6745 Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista collapsed on February 6, prompting the evacuation of the four buildings grouped together at the spot. | Photo: Ingrid Bostrom

Four ocean-view apartments on the 6700 block of Del Playa were evacuated when a deck collapsed this morning after the cliffs holding them up eroded drastically in the wake of the harsh weekend storms across Santa Barbara County. No one was injured, but 45 or more people were displaced, County Fire reported.

The building with the broken deck — 6745 Del Playa — is next door to the home where Benjamin ‘Benny’ Schurmer died last September, said Spencer Brandt, a member of the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD). The property owners have been adamant in claiming that these properties do not have bluff erosion issues, Brandt added.

All four of the properties affected — 6741, 6743, 6745, and 6747 Del Playa Drive — were within 20 feet of the bluff face, as described in the county’s erosion monitoring report for January 2024. Once a property gets within 20 feet of the cliff’s edge, they are supposed to get a county letter requesting structural integrity and bluff stability reports. Only two of the affected properties received such a letter, though exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis, the county’s Isla Vista Bluff Policy states.

Prior to the weekend storms, Brandt said IVCSD sent I.V. voters a list to warn of properties at issue due to previous or potential bluff failure. However, these four properties were not on this list.

“The storms underscore the pressing need for bluff and cliff safety, as seen by a bluff-facing balcony collapse at a private property in Isla Vista this morning,” said Laura Capps, county supervisor for Isla Vista. “Thankfully no injuries have been reported, and we are working with our public safety officials to evacuate the surrounding area.”

Capps’s office stated the four buildings would need to get permits for taller fencing to protect tenants, should they return.

All four of the properties rest above a timber seawall hypothetically guarding the bluffs from wave erosion — a protective measure that proved to be ineffective against what Santa Barbara County Fire’s Captain Scott Safechuck calls “the constant bombardment against the bluffs.”

The bluff failure puts some of the properties at substantially less than 20 feet from the edge of the bluff, which county Building & Safety inspectors are assessing this morning. It is unknown whether the evacuated residents, most of them UCSB students, will be able to return to their homes for the remainder of the academic year.

[Update: Feb. 6, 2024 3:20 p.m.] After making a site visit, Eleanor Gartner of Supervisor Capps’s office said the tenants were being allowed to return as of 2 p.m. today. Building and Safety officials ordered the patio area be fenced off but determined the buildings themselves to be safe. Building and Safety continues to assess the condition of the patios, Gartner said.

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