Lulls between storms bring new Pacifica action plan

January 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
In the Sermon on the Mount, there is a parable about how houses built on sand ultimately fail. It is a reference that engineers and work crews would rather not think about along a crumbling sandstone cliff in Pacifica. They still hope to save the apartments on Esplanade Way.

"Well it's a challenge because it's a challenging environment," said Alan Kroop, the latest engineer to tackle this problem. "The failure here was not ocean driven. It's weather driven," added Tony Fortunato, the foreman running this project.

Either way, the a large chunk of collapsing bluff drove residents of six more units into the street, yesterday -- the latest episode in a geologic instant that has dragged on for more than one month.

Engineer Kroop's latest measure will attack the problem from above, not below. Work crews have begun drilling reinforcing soil nails 45 feet into the bluff. Those nails will also serve as anchors for a steel grid that engineers want to hang over the cliff. Into that, they will fire a concrete mixture to cover the damage, and stop the cliff from eroding. Or, so they hope.

"I think if we get this going tomorrow, we will have a reasonable, real good chance of saving it," said the always positive Mr. Fortunato.

"Reasonable?" ABC7 asked.

"I mean real good. Sorry about that."

But, even if it does work, issues continue as the failing cliff moves relentlessly north toward the Lands End Apartments, where Annie Peek lives in the most vulnerable unit. "That ocean won't stop its power here," said the Texas transplant as she held a small, white dog adorned with pink ribbons.

Peek can barely stand to watch. "I was in the dog park last week. It's gone. And last night, two more posts from the walkway fell over the cliff." Peek spent today looking for a new apartment, but worries that by the time she finds one, there will not be room left to carry her furniture out the front door. "As it stands now, I might have to punch a hole in the wall to get out. How else would I move my stuff?"

Her landlords express more optimism. Spokesman Dan Kaplan said they have asked the California Coastal Commission to approve armoring the bluff, but have not, yet applied for an emergency permit. "It's exasperating and difficult to deal with their timelines," said Kaplan. The apartments hope to receive such clearance in about three weeks.

"They had best hurry," observed Tony Fortunato. "That bluff is moving fast. I think they have two weeks."