After discussing everything they could do for Goleta Beach Park, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to do only one thing: ask the Coastal Commission to permit the rock revetments.
The presence of the rocks — some were installed legally, some illegally, and some with now-expired emergency permits — has long divided the community, with rock supporters maintaining that the revetments protect the lawn and its amenities but environmental groups just as vehemently saying the rocks only protect the park at the expense of the beach, making for a loss of sand and a permanent bluff over time.
Tuesday’s meeting was no different, with supporters on both sides — although the ratio skewed toward the rock-favoring representatives of Friends of Goleta Beach and the City of Goleta over the removal-favoring Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and Surfrider Foundation — packing the boardroom. The project before the supervisors Tuesday was the latest in the years-long effort by the county to address the popular beach’s future — it attracts 1.5 million visitor annually — which is believed to be jeopardized by climate change and projected sea level rise. After more than two hours of staff presentation and public testimony from approximately 40 speakers who all said how much they love Goleta Beach, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, in whose district the park lies, took the lead.
“My commitment to the long-term sustainability should go without saying,” she said, noting what she said has been “far too much rhetoric, political theater, legal threats, and personal threats” surrounding the issue. She continued, noting the board’s approval in recent years of replacing the nearby 40-year-old sewer lift station and the park’s bridge and denying a motion for parking fees. No matter people’s position on what’s best for Goleta Beach — keeping the rocks or removing them, or some hybrid plan — Wolf said her constituents are “desirous of some certainty” and that her goal on Tuesday was “to attempt to bring some measure of closure” to the matter by requesting a permit for the 1,200 feet of rocks and nothing more. “I know this alternative is one that may come as a surprise to many and a disappointment to some,” she said.
The option chosen, known in Goleta Beach Park project parlance as Alternative 5, was one of seven the board could have forwarded to the Coastal Commission. The most controversial among them was the project’s environmental study–recommended “managed retreat” scheme, which would have seen the removal of the 1,200 feet of rocks, the loss (and later potential relocation) of more than 100 parking spots, the transplantation of gas and water lines and the Highway 217–adjacent bike path, and the damage to nearly three acres of the grassy park for the benefit of the sandy beach.
Five of the other choices involved simply removing the rocks, removing them but installing a wave-energy-deflecting cobble berm, keeping the rocks but moving them park-ward over time, and — in the plan supported by Friends of Goleta Beach and the City of Goleta — retaining the rocks in place for 20 years while other protective measures, such as a cobble berm and Canary Island date palm trees, were analyzed. The “managed retreat” plan would have cost the county more than $4 million, and the most expensive measure would have cost nearly $23 million. To keep the rocks will cost nothing.
“It seems like a three-time winner to me,” said 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr after quickly seconding Wolf’s proposal. Farr, acknowledging the “passion” evoked by the issue, explained her vote for keeping the rocks as one based on what’s best for visitors, the environment, and the county’s finances. Supervisors Salud Carbajal, Steve Lavagnino, and Peter Adam — who kicked off the meeting by delving into his bitter history with one of the project’s environmental-study consultants — all concurred but declined to say much.
Those who did say much included representatives from the City of Goleta, which has long voiced its support for retaining the rocks and last week threatened the county with legal action over its handling of the project’s process. Councilmember Roger Aceves, who is challenging Wolf for her seat in the June primary and announced his candidacy in September at the beach, said that people want the park and its amenities to be protected. “It’s not about the beach; it’s about the park,” he said. “If you look at this last storm, it did exactly what you wanted it to do. That’s what 1.5 million people per year expect, for the park to be saved.”
Aceves also addressed several supervisors individually, asking Carbajal and Farr about the protections in their districts. To Adam, Aceves mentioned the millions of dollars the other plans would cost, possibly to the financial detriment of maintaining county-owned roads, buildings, and parks — a cause Adam is taking to the June ballot in Measure M.
“If we retain the rocks, we will lose the beach,” countered Brian Trautwein of the EDC. “We’ve done soul-searching,” he continued, saying the EDC were willing to give up the “managed retreat” plan. “Let’s work together on a compromise plan.” The EDC’s “middle of the road” approach would have involved installing the aforementioned cobble berm but removing the rocks and some parking spots and relocating the utility lines.
Farr challenged Trautwein on whether the Coastal Commission would approve a cobble berm. Whether the Coastal Commission will approve a permit for the rocks remains to be seen. If they do, the decision will head back to the County Planning Commission, whose say will be final unless appealed to either the supervisors or the Coastal Commission.