Cliff Erosion Becoming Harder To Ignore

Jennifer Hodges
August 21, 2019 - 1:35 pm
Cliff erosion in Santa Cruz along roads like West Cliff Road is a concern.

Jennifer Hodges/KCBS Radio

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SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz is feeling the effects of climate change. Cliff erosion, sea level rise and stronger coastal storms are all bearing down on a famous road in the city.

West Cliff Drive is an iconic part of the California Coastal Trail that runs for several miles overlooking the Monterey Bay. Locals and tourists alike  admire idyllic beaches, hike, bike and even catch glimpses of migrating whales from its vantage point.

But in recent years visitors have also noticed that the walkway is beginning to crumble into the ocean below.

“We already know that we have flooding and erosion happening that are exacerbated by coastal storms and also sea level rise,” says Dr. Tiffany Wise-West, Santa Cruz’s Sustainability and Climate Action Manager. She says the city has already had several blowouts along the pedestrian and bike path on West Cliff Drive.

That is prompting action by the city, which has launched a Resilient Coast Initiative. One of its goals is to protect West Cliff Drive as both a road and destination for recreation, and another is to develop strategies to preserve the city’s beaches.

It is essential that the city acts now, before more damage is done, Wise-West said.

“There’s been some research done that says that for every dollar in proactive planning and investment that’s made in coastal resilience planning, you save $6 down the line," she said 

The initiative is still in its infancy. “It certainly is going to be some kind of mixture of policy and infrastructure going forward,” said Wise-West. “What that exactly looks like, I don’t know.”

Some residents say this project is long overdue. “The Coastal Commission has requested a plan for at least 20 years now, probably closer to 25, and the city has not come up with that plan,” said one resident who owns a home along West Cliff Drive. “That’s not the way to run anything. That would be like saying ‘I’m not going to maintain my house I’m just gonna let it fall down, and then I’ll collect the insurance and rebuild it later.’ You don’t do that.”

The city is planning a series of community meetings for September or October.

Reported by Jennifer Hodges. Written by Jessica Yi.