Pacifica is San Francisco’s perfect getaway. Why travel farther south than Pacifica, only to suffer Highway 1’s mind-numbing, stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic. Why not stay in Pacifica? Hike the coast from Mori Point to San Pedro Mountain to Devil’s Slide. Witness recovered migrating gray whales and feeding humpback whales. Hike the wildness of San Pedro Valley Park and see foxes, bobcats and approachable deer. View the San Francisco Bay from Sweeney Ridge. Go surfing, golf Sharp Park or fish from Pacifica’s pier.

Most of the above activities bring Pacifica little revenue. But enhancing the Beach Boulevard-Palmetto area to attract and encourage tourists to stay in local hotels and eat at our restaurants could bring added revenue that supports our schools and city maintenance.

However, to invest, developers must feel relatively secure. In addition to protecting existing homes and infrastructure, a well-designed seawall adds that security. Incentivizing developers to contribute to a seawall is a win-win. In contrast, calls for managed retreat and fear-mongering about sea level rise only discourages investments.

Pacifica’s anti-seawall campaigners recently wrote odd editorials. One presented the cost of a seawall versus protecting the sewer system as an either-or problem. Despite referencing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2017 report, the writer failed to mention a seawall would also protect the critical Sharp Park pump station, and that the cost of replacing a damaged pump station would be $45 million — the same cost as the most expensive seawall.

Two different writers misleadingly reported the Corps’ cost/benefit analysis. For the Corps to invest in the cheapest seawall, the wall must reduce current Estimated Annual Damage by “at least $375,000.” Under current conditions, Pacifica’s storm damage is “unlikely to exceed $30,000.”

It was never that a seawall was a bad idea for future investments. The Corps wouldn’t invest in a seawall unless Pacifica would suffer 12 times more damage. Such bad cost/benefit analysis is not surprising from the organization that destroyed the Everglades, caused dangerous subsidence in New Orleans with devastating flooding from failed levies, and a “get the water off the land as quickly as possible approach” that has caused higher flood frequencies for communities living downstream from their handiwork.

Pacifica’s anti-seawall managed retreat campaigners argue lost homes and infrastructure are inevitable outcomes we must accept. If their doomsday beliefs hold sway, no one will ever invest here.

For 12,000 years, as sea levels rapidly recovered from the Ice Age, starting from miles beyond the Farallon Islands, the ocean relentlessly moved inland. It devoured cliffs supporting the Ocean Shore Railroad in the early 1900s, before climate change was a concern and recently collapsed part of Highway 1. Wherever coastal land consists of loosely consolidated sediments, the ocean uncompromisingly erodes it with every El Niño storm event, averaging 1.5 to 2 feet per year. Despite little sea level rise, El Niños bring peaks of transient high water. In contrast, just as our rocky headlands resisted erosion for hundreds of years, a good seawall can likewise secure Pacifica’s future.

Jim Steele is a resident of Linda Mar.

(1) comment

Christine Boles

Jim, can I ask who you think those people are that are against the seawall replacement? There have been four other editorials about the Beach Boulevard Infrastructure Resiliency Project (BBIRP) recently in the Tribune, from James Kremer, Dave Hirzel, Stan Zeavin and me. If you read those articles, none of us claims to be against a sea wall, we are all just asking for more information, especially in regard to the existing infrastructure. This is an infrastructure resiliency project after all...Personally, I have not made a decision at this point, and based on what was shared in January, neither has the city’s consultant GHD.

The main points in these editorials as I understand them is that there is not enough data or financial cost analysis yet to make an informed decision. The City and GHD have been promising a Multi-Hazard Risk Assessment that analyzes hazards such as floods and earthquakes, utilities, the environment, and economic issues. This is basic information that is needed to inform decisions. At the first workshop, they said this report would be out in November. After the January meeting, they told us it would be out before the end of February. We’re still waiting.

The point Stan and I made is that the Army Corps already looked in detail at replacing the seawall and the cost/benefit analysis for this program did not pencil out for them by a huge margin. You can complain about their methodology, but the reality is that this is a potential pot of money we are probably not going to be able to get. And in terms of the pump station, have a look at the Council agenda for next Monday. They are already looking to make major changes to the pump station so the site will be more desirable for a potential hotel developer.

I’ll be writing another article soon with more technical information about GHD’s analysis next week.

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