Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Martin's Beach to be Armored

It's official: the California Coastal Commission has granted an emergency permit to construct a 963 ft rock revetment seaward of the oceanfront road along Martin's Beach.  The County of San Mateo already issued an emergency permit for the portion of the project within their jurisdiction at the end of January 2013.

In addition to the revetment, which is to be "temporarily" erected for the protection of the road and infrastructure, the road is to be widened and the existing restrooms demolished for the creation of a fire turnaround.  There is no condition of approval requiring the removal of existing unpermitted development, such as the keycard gate or the block wall at the south end of the beach.

Surfrider sent both an after-the-fact letter to the County (upon having learned that the County had already permitted the project) and a letter to the Coastal Commission highlighting various concerns with the project, including 1) that erosion here cannot be characterized as an emergency (--it has been happening for a long time!); 2) the emergency permit allows for development beyond what is needed to respond to "emergency" erosion; 3) existing unpermitted development needs addressed before permitting additional development; 4) the terms of the permit could result in serious unmitigated impacts that haven't been studied, such as loss of sandy beach due to erosion caused by the wall, and 5) the project is not consistent with LCP and Coastal Act policies.  The other concern is that the new property owner is pursuing armoring here and now in hopes of getting his foot in the door to armor for whatever development is planned in the future.

Unfortunately, emergency permitting authority is rather sweeping and tends to err heavily on the side of allowing an existing structure to be protected rather than protection of access and preservation of the beach.  So despite all these compelling issues, we have an impending revetment that is slated to be built within the next 30 days and could stand for up to 1 year before needing any additional approvals, according to the permit conditions.  Despite the permit terms, it is quite possible that the revetment could remain standing and continue to impact the beach past its permitted life.  Just look at Ocean Beach in SF or any number of other places along the California coast.  Once armoring goes in--temporary or not--it tends to remain, sometimes even after its useful life is past.

Why all the hate on seawalls and rock revetments?  Well, while they may be handy at delaying the inevitable overtake of structures by the advancing mighty ocean, shoreline armoring fixes the back of the beach and prevents it from retreating naturally, robbing the beach of sand to replenish it as it erodes, as well as exacerbating erosion of the beach seaward of the wall due to wave reflection off the hardened structure.  Seawalls are beach killers.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that the existing structures the revetment is being permitted to protect--the cabins and infrastructure serving them--are not likely to stand long after the current land leases are up.  What good will the revetment be then?  It might be good for Mr. Khosla, who will benefit from the serendipitous existence of a revetment that could protect his future development endeavors, but certainly will not be good for anyone looking to visit the beach, which in the future may ironically include current cabin owners. 

So, what's to be done now that the revetment has been permitted?

First, the revetment has been conditionally permitted.  If the conditions of the permit issued by the Coastal Commission are not complied with, such as completing construction within 30 days or avoiding grading of intertidal areas, the permit holder is in violation of the Coastal Act.  Any violations should be reported to the California Coastal Commission.  Similarly, the County has imposed conditions in their permit and any violations of those should be reported to the County.

Secondly, the property owner must file for a regular Coastal Development Permit (CDP) from the County and the Coastal Commission by July 28, 2013 for whatever long-term armoring is intended to be in place.  If the permit isn't filed, the revetment must be removed by July 28, 2014.  Surfrider will be keeping an eye on this. 

Thirdly, in their consideration of the CDP application, the County and the Commission will also consider the full range of impacts.  It will be really important to photograph the emergency revetment's impacts on the beach while it's in place so these decision makers can inform their deliberations.   Help contribute to this effort by taking photos of the beach profile when you go to visit.