As the Pacifica Planning Department goes through its ongoing process for the update of the general plan, I hope it will not neglect the circulation element, in particular the tenuous connection that the 353 (as of 1980) homes north of the old Dollar Radio site have with the rest of the city.

A quick review of the soils report provided by GeoForensics to Warmington for its proposed development along that stretch of Palmetto indicates that the blufftop retreat in that area averages 2.2 feet per year. At this rate, it will take 123 years for the blufftop to reach Palmetto Avenue’s western edge.

This report makes no mention of the probability that the erosion will have reached the road’s supporting soil long before that, and the head of the existing ravine long before that. It also does not mention the acceleration of this historical rate, that will inevitably result from sea level rise (in some modest projections 12 more inches by 2050).

Using GeoForensic‘s figures, it appears that the blufftop’s current edge is about 270 feet from Palmetto. Thus in about 100 years the retreat would start to encroach on a 50-foot buffer between pavement edge and drop off. As we have recently seen a little farther south, in the 600 block of Esplanade, when the cliff hits the buffer, the time has come to think about moving.

So consider this: blufftop erosion accelerated by sea level rise means that well before 100 years have gone by Pacifica will have to take a very hard look at how to deal with the impending loss of the roadway. The choices available then appear to be (A) reinforce or repair the right of way at phenomenal expense, (B) move it inland onto what is today undeveloped land, or (C) abandon Palmetto, leaving those homes above it without direct connection to the rest of the city.

In the event of options (B) and (C), the driveway into Warmington’s proposed development would also be inaccessible, thus limiting the viability of the development, not to the 123 years indicated by the report, but to something well under a hundred. It is well worth noting that the city’s Local Coastal Land Use Plan defines design life as “the time span during which the designer expects the development to safely exist, generally 100 years (Page C-16).”

The updated General Plan should take into account not only the viability of a given development, but also the viability of the circulation element essential to the connection of Fairmont West and upper Palmetto to the rest of Pacifica.

David Hirzel lives in Pacifica.

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