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.