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Saving San Mateo’s Beaches, One Permit at a Time: Remove the Seawall at Pacific View Villas in Pacifica

According to data from NOAA, 8.3 square miles of natural areas (wetlands, beaches, parks, dunes, etc.) in San Mateo County will be inundated with just 2 feet of sea level rise and over 35 square miles with 6 feet of sea level rise, which may occur by 2100. If our only response to sea level rise is to construct seawalls (aka coastal armoring), our beaches, waves and natural areas will drown and with it our recreational opportunities and vital marine life habitat. Unfortunately, seawalls will only protect property at the expense of the coast. Currently, 9% of San Mateo’s coastline, or just over 5 miles of our 55 mile coastline is covered in seawalls, according to CSU Channel Islands analysis. In other words, we have much to save but also much to lose in San Mateo County as sea levels rise and the climate crisis rages on. More and more proposals for sea walls are being brought forward even though there are often effective alternatives. That’s why our chapter is supporting the California Coastal Commission staff recommendation to remove the 4,000 square foot rock revetment seawall associated with Pacifica View Villas in Pacifica. Every inch of natural beach space we save from a seawall is a chance for our coast to be resilient to rising seas.

Pacific View Villas HOA has an unpermitted seawall and is illegally blocking public coastal access.

Pacific View Villas Homeowners’ Association (HOA) has committed multiple Coastal Act violations over decades which have cost the public access to and enjoyment of the beach and Bluff. Notably, the HOA installed a rock revetment that is five times the footprint than what was approved simply for stormwater runoff dissipation, taking up 4,000 square feet of unpermitted beach space since 2008 and eroding the beach so that it is now visibly smaller than surrounding areas. The HOA also failed to provide the blufftop public access loop trail as required, having closed it without a CDP for the past five years (due reportedly to erosion concerns.)

To address these issues, Coastal Commission staff’s permit recommendation would require the HOA relocate the stormwater infrastructure and remove the seawall; presenting a clear opportunity to manage ongoing impacts to the public beach caused by erosion and sea level rise and to restore access that rightfully belongs to the public.

Public access and the beach must be restored.

The special conditions outlined by Coastal Commission staff generously allow the applicant temporary retention of the emergency drainage system as a way to facilitate relocation of the drainage inland. During this time, it is more than appropriate that the public begins to recuperate benefits through restoration of the public access loop trail on the blufftop portion of the property and lateral access to the beach. Surfrider applauds staff’s recognition of environmental justice implications and the reality that shrinking access to the shoreline throughout Pacifica has an outsized impact on lower income and minority communities.

Surfrider supports the Coastal Commission staff’s recommendation  because it will allow natural shoreline processes to be restored at this location within a year and it will best resolve the stormwater drainage issue to ensure longer term safety and stability of the bluff. In addition, with the mitigation fee and immediate public access conditions, this proposal will provide public benefits that have been unlawfully privatized for more than 10 years. 

This item will be heard on the California Coastal Commission’s agenda on Friday, March 11 - our chapter will be there to support the staff recommendation! If you are available on Friday to testify in support of protecting San Mateo County’s beaches, let us know right away and we can get you more information. You can sign up to speak at the Coastal Commission’s meeting for Item Friday, 12a here, or tune in live on Cal-Span.

Update: the applicant is now requesting a postponement and this item is unlikely to be heard at the March meeting.

San Mateo County Chapter of Surfrider is actively engaged in Pacifica and throughout San Mateo County advocating for and encouraging local government decisions to manage the problem of sea level rise in Pacifica in a way that benefits public resources and access to the coast. Interested in joining us? Reach out today and become a volunteer!