Part of Santa Cruz’s famed West Cliff Drive is closed after heavy surf on Nov. 25 chewed away at the structures protecting the cliff, causing parts of the pathway to crumble into the sea.
Pedestrians and bicyclists are moving out into traffic lanes to navigate their way along the heavily-used route.
The damage to three areas in the area of Woodrow Avenue and Columbia Street is no surprise for the city, whose West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan—approved by the Santa Cruz City Council in 2021—is already underway. The cave-in occurred in areas already under design for repair.
Still, the waves fast-forwarded plans to shore up the protective armor of boulders along the battered cliff walls—called riprap—to thwart encroaching waves and stop further erosion, as engineers prepare to make further repairs, said Senior Civil Engineer Joshua Spangrud.
“This is one of three areas that I’m in the process of having a project put together to address,” he said. “And now it looks like I need to do it quicker.”
Spangrud said he expects designs to be complete by the end of the year, and a request for proposals to be issued soon thereafter.
The plan—with seven transportation alternatives—is a long-range look at how climate change and rising sea levels will affect the coastline, and how the city will adapt to it.
Future work could include changing West Cliff Drive to one-way for vehicles, with one of the lanes previously used for traffic converted to a bike lane. City officials could also consider a full or partial closure to vehicles, or relocating parts of the drive in Lighthouse Field State Park. The plan also includes possibly purchasing some private parcels to allow for additional space.
While some of the plan proposes ways to slow erosion caused by encroaching waves, it also acknowledges that such encroachment is inevitable, and suggests several “adaptation strategies.”
One of these involves placing sand dredged from Santa Cruz Harbor at Pyramid Beach, which planners believe would be dispersed along West Cliff Drive and help slow incoming waves.
For another strategy—called managed retreat—city leaders would, over time, relocate and move infrastructure at risk of erosion.
Bethany Jacobs of Santa Cruz, who says she uses the walkway “almost every single day of the year,” says that she won’t enjoy having to use a detour while the work goes on, but understands it’s necessary.
“Whatever they have to do to protect this beauty,” she said.