Critical repairs begin on crumbling Pacifica cliff

January 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
These are heroic measures, at the least.

All it takes is one look at the 19-foot surf, the falling coastline, the clouds, the wind and the precariously perched apartments along Esplanade Avenue in Pacifica. They have become this small city's number one tourist attraction, and the efforts to save them have become the best show for miles around.

"When does this become cost-prohibitive?" ABC7 asked foreman Tony Fortunato.

"When the owner says, 'no more.' Right now, he wants to save the building," said Fortunato, who commands an army of men in cranes, trucks and bulldozers.

If these apartments were patients in a hospital, they would be in critical care, if not life support. The doctor would be saying, "It will take considerable effort and a long recovery, but I think we can extend life by 50 years."

Actually, the doctor is saying that. But, his name is Tony Fortunato and he works not for a hospital, but Engineered Soil Repairs.

Through the weekend and on Monday, work crews dangling from a crane drove more reinforcing soil nails 50 feet into the cliff. This afternoon, they will hang a rebar grid into which they will spray fast-drying concrete to cover the crumbling sandstone and prevent future erosion. The nails support the grid in the same way a curtain rod supports a drape.

Next, owners hope to build a breakwater offshore. That move depends on approval from the California Coastal Commission, which told ABC7 Monday that it awaits further applications. One of them will come from Dan Kaplan, who owns the Lands End apartments, just to the north.

"No one anticipated this kind of wave activity," he said Monday.

Since the cliffs began their disappearing act last month, Kaplan has watched least 30 feet of his oceanfront property topple into the Pacific as lost acreage, never to be recovered again. The Coastal Commission did not approve his previous requests to buttress the shoreline below his apartments.

Now that the disappearing land threatens to take some apartments, he hopes for a more favorable response, and soon.

"I expect to file on Wednesday," he told ABC7.

"We can turn it around in 24 hours," said a spokeswoman from the Coastal Commission.

"This needs to happen soon," said Fortunato. "They have lost land every day."

Another chunk of the disintegrating cliffside fell into the ocean Monday morning, further threatening the buildings above.

"I am surprised by how suddenly this came this year. It seems like every year a little bit goes, but this year it just [goes] like that," said Barbara Giffen, a Pacifica resident.

Another person who expressed surprise was Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who toured the area Monday with members of the Pacifica City Council and the federal Office of Emergency Services. Unfortunately, she said, this is a pre-existing condition that does not meet emergency standards.

"Right now, because it's private property, there is not a lot that we can do. My concern is for city streets, and the storm drain and the sewer. At what point are they impacted? And are we prepared to respond if they do become impacted?" said Speier.

The City Council will hold a meeting Monday night that should be very interesting. First, they are going to look at what they can do. Then, they will hear from some citizens that are fed up with this whole thing. Nearby residents have had to endure over a month of a disruption and noise that may continue for quite some time.

Also, environmentalists are upset about the concrete drape that will go over the edge of the cliff and the effect it will have on the rest of the coastline.

For more on Monday night's developments, click here: Neighbors on Pacifica cliff ask City Council for help