Saturday, June 25, 2011
Esplanade update in a city with no money to assist
Don't give-up on continuous seawalls
Mercury News/Julia Scott, 6/23/11. New bluff damage behind an occupied apartment building on Esplanade Avenue has again raised questions about the future of the precarious dwellings and the efforts of some property owners to avoid facing evacuation as Mother Nature marches on.
The heavy rains this year were not kind to 340 Esplanade Ave. along Pacifica's spectacular but receding northern coastline. The apartment building's side walkway has caved in, taking a drainage grate and safety railing with it. Residents still have full use of their bluff-top patios, but the ocean has eaten away enough bluff to expose the casing of an old, buried swimming pool. Building owner Dennis Thomas blamed the cave-in on drainage problems at the property next door that have now been resolved. "There's no problem with the bluff. There's some erosion at the top, but it's just surface erosion," said Thomas, who is counting on some loosely stacked boulders at the base of the cliff to protect against wave action.
Neighboring apartment buildings at 330 and 320 Esplanade were evacuated in the winter of 2009-2010 as chunks of bluff fell into the ocean. Now the structures lean into the air. Dirt is crumbling away from the foundations. Neither building owner is working on repairs at the moment -- both are tied up in lawsuits with a former contractor over late payments and accusations of negligence.
One of those owners, Farshid Samsami, said he now plans to abandon 330 Esplanade because "Things could be solved in advance with the cooperation of the other agencies, but they say they won't do it," said Samsami. "We're not asking for a handout or a whole repair, but at least help us. ... It seems like their hands are tied as well."Pacifica building official Doug Rider said the city has no playbook for what may happen next. "If he's going to up and abandon the building, do we get the deed?" he said. "Could we then get FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funding to protect this property? I don't know." It will be an interesting headache for whoever takes it over.he can't afford to fix the bluff. He said he's asked the city and the federal government for help, but he doesn't qualify for emergency funding from FEMA because his building is located on private property.
City officials have said that even an abandoned, peeling apartment building on the edge of a cliff still has value: It covers the sandy soil, slowing the rate of erosion and protecting city utilities, streets and transmission lines from being gobbled up by the ocean. More than a decade ago, the city evacuated several single-family homes at the south end of Esplanade as the bluff eroded. When one of them fell into the ocean, the rest were demolished.
Other nearby apartment owners are trying to avoid a similar fate by investing millions of dollars in complicated sea-wall structures. The Land's End condominium complex at 100 Esplanade Ave. is building a 670-foot-wide sea wall designed to withstand storm surges and a sea-level rise of 4½ feet. Construction workers sunk deep steel-and-concrete piles into the upper bluff in case that area also needs a wall to protect it someday, according to Rob Anderson of RJR Engineering. Land's End has lost roughly 100 feet of bluff since 2009.
Anderson said his firm could still save 320 Esplanade Ave. with some combination of a sea wall and tiebacks along with steel beams to keep the foundation in place. But it would need to happen soon, before any more bluff disappears, he said. "We're able to come up with a wall design," Anderson said. "You just have to make the economics work." Millard Tong, owner of 320 Esplanade Ave., is believed to have lost as much as $600,000 in forfeited rent payments since the evacuation.
Local observers worry about the piecemeal manner in which these engineering "fixes" occur. Building owners along Esplanade initially came together to discuss erecting a single, continuous sea wall or something similar that would protect the quarter-mile stretch, but talks broke down. Today, the stretch of beach contains a sea wall, then a patch of sand, then another sea wall. Engineers say sea walls with gaps between them are ineffective. The ocean sweeps through the openings and undercuts the walls. "If my neighbor has his done and I don't, eventually his erosion is going to affect my property," Samsami said. "It's a big mess. A big mess."
Posted by Kathy Meeh