Storm prompts urgent repairs on Pacifica cliff

January 12, 2010 11:46:46 AM PST
A series of storms in the Bay Area is adding new urgency to the effort to save an apartment building at the top of an endangered cliff in Pacifica.

Crews are adding more boulders to the base of cliff. They're racing against time to defend the eroding cliff against big waves that will soon become massive. Some of those waves already look to be pushing 12 to 15 feet along part of the Pacifica coastline. With the forecast, they may grow to 20 feet by Tuesday night. It's a scramble for the crews, they're preparing to do some last-minute, wave-bracing work to save the cliff and the building above.

A long, huge swell is well on its way to impact the California coastline -- while the High Surf Advisory doesn't kick in until Tuesday night, the surf is already rolling in more powerfully. Crews working to save an eroding Pacifica cliff and the apartment building teetering above -- are on edge themselves.

"If you have a high tide, and you got 18 foot waves, you're gonna hit, they're gonna hit -- so we have to make sure that the rock is in the right place," said Tony Forunato of Engineered Soil Repairs.

Three-thousand or so boulders already make up a wall, intended to serve as a protective barrier against the pounding waves. On Monday, they hauled down another 530 tons of rock, aiming to make that wall even taller on Tuesday.

"We're going to tune up what we have down there, try to raise rock up and get it around 30 feet high, its about 22 to 25 feet," said Forunato.

The hope is this stabilizes the toe of the bluff and the waves don't wash away more. The owners of the endangered Esplanade Drive apartment building have been struggling and paying to save it since chunks of cliffside started falling away last month. Residents had to evacuate when the city red-tagged the building as dangerous. Others living at adjacent buildings have even moved out, concerned about the cliff's stability. But Forunato says those other buildings have enough blufftop under them and are safe -- it's the one at 330 Esplanade that needs 24 hour monitoring.

"We've got the crane onsite. If we got any dire need like we did last time, we can always start throwing rock over the building again. If we can't get on the beach, that's another option, but hopefully we'll be able to tune it up enough to weather this storm -- that's the hope," said Forunato.

The best time to really get in there will be during low tide, which is at about 3 pm. The next step after this rock wall is to determine whether to move forward with a steel rod nail system to further stabilize the cliff.