Homeowners not allowed to save expensive homes

January 18, 2011 12:32:20 AM PST
Homeowners living along an eroding bluff in Santa Cruz County are worried the next big storm could cause serious damage to their properties.

The homes are along Rio del Mar Beach in Aptos. Homeowners are worried about Aptos Creek and want to be able to shore up their million dollar properties, but they can't get the permission to do the work.

"We think it was about five years ago. New Years Eve as a matter of fact," says Rio del Mar resident Vivian Neasham.

Five years ago, Neasham lost three feet of backyard when water from Aptos Creek began eating away at the bluff her home sits on at Rio del Mar Beach. In fact, she's lost 20 feet of beach front property due to erosion in the past 20 years. Each time there's a storm the creek backs up and more of her yard is gone.

"It will undermine us. That's exactly what it is doing, we don't know if every year how much more it is going to undermine the sand and the rocks," says Neasham.

The Aptos Creek normally flows right into the Pacific, but on occasion winter storms push sand in the way and blocks the creek's natural flow. Water then backs up and forms a stream right in front of the bluff. Chunks of beach front property have been washed away, leaving a nine-foot drop off along the edge.

"Normally, it stays out further, but this year it got right up against to this rock wall," says Rio del Mar homeowner David LaVelle.

LaVelle says residents are trying to work with the state and county to get sand removed, but so far no luck. The California Department of Fish and Game have also been quoted as saying dredging the beach to open the flow could harm the habitat of endangered steelhead trout in the area.

"The residents are willing to pay for the protection, pay to have the creek opened up if they need to do that. We just want to work out a system that so that there is an ongoing permit so we don't have to do this every couple of years," says LaVelle.

The dry spell has helped the water recede, but property owners fear the next big storm will wash more away from the already eroding bluff.

"If it undermines it, then it takes all the sand and takes everything away and undermines it. And it will come underneath your house and you're gone," says Neasham.