.West Cliff Construction Faces Troubling Delays

Meanwhile, the community weighs in on a 50-Year Plan for the iconic drive

Work repairing West Cliff Drive will start later than the city expected, as the construction company slated to make repairs struggles to approve aspects of the project. 

The Santa Cruz City Council voted on Sept. 12 to repair four portions of the cliff-face between Columbia and David Way and to restore traffic to two-way, estimated to cost $8.7 million. Granite Construction was expected to mobilize for work the week of Sept. 11 or sooner and begin construction soon after, according to the city council’s agenda report. 

“(The city) is definitely late. I think they would acknowledge that as well. I think the hope is that we get enough of these infill walls in place to manage the situation with the super El Niño that is coming,” said West Cliff resident Al Ramadan.

Ramadan is a member of Save West Cliff, an organization of local residents, ex-politicians and surf honchos formed in the wake of the winter storms that damaged parts of West Cliff earlier this year.

A wet and stormy El Niño could limit work days and slow construction when the cliffs are most vulnerable. Multi-month forecasts are not exact, but by most accounts a considerable El Niño is predicted. Storms are more likely to come from the south like those that caused damage last winter, according to oceanographer Gary Griggs.

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El Niño is a concern for the city, but weather is always a concern, according to City Engineer Kevin Crossley. 

“We recognize we are running out of good-weather days,” said Crossley. The fewer days working now means more in the spring.

According to City Manager Matt Huffaker, the plan is on time

“Our project timeline for the four infill walls is on track. Granite Rock is out there as we speak. They put together a rapid mobilization plan. They are actually bringing in contractors from all over the Bay Area and outside of the state to build out their construction team and they’re out there staging,” Huffaker said on Oct. 4. 

Progress on the project has been held up by a shoring and excavation plan, a customary document required when digging holes in construction work. The plan must show the projected extent of digging around the damaged area as well as how to access the site. Planning ramps down to the excavation sites to move workers and equipment has proved difficult because of tide variability and wave action. 

Due to these challenges, Granite Construction has had trouble finding an engineer who wants to sign off on the plan, according to city engineer Kevin Crossley. But the company is still working on the shoring plan. 

According to the city, the excavation is expected to start Oct. 11. The goal is to build the walls before the end of the year. 

Construction “may bleed into 2024” on the infill walls, according to Public Works Director Nathan Nguyen. The most vulnerable cliff-face at 1016 West Cliff Dr. will be addressed first. 

The 50-Year Vision Community Meeting 

On Oct. 3 at the London Nelson Community Center, community members came together with city staff to give their input for the city’s 50-Year Vision for West Cliff Drive. 

The process to move ahead with a 50- year vision was approved by the city council in May. 

The idea was informed by the 2018 Climate Emergency Declaration and the 2021 West Cliff Adaptation Plan. Since the winter storms that caused immense damage to the iconic drive, there have been five public meetings and several more are planned in the months ahead to gather community input on how to maintain the drive moving forward. 

A separate “focus group,” criticized for its lack of diversity by the mayor and council members, is meeting to advise the city and community on the future of the drive. Huffaker said that the city is  reaching out to a group of community members to diversify the focus group. 

The community engagement process is oriented around a long-term horizon as directed by the council. Fifty years is too long to plan all contingencies out so it is a “vision,” said Huffaker. 

“This is really about what West Cliff will look like for our kids, our grand-kids, our great-grand kids,” Huffaker said. 

Michael McCormick of Farallon Strategies—the consulting company on the project— guided the meeting. McCormick laid out jurisdictional, regulatory, monetary and environmental parameters to limit the vision. The city only has jurisdiction over the high-tide line. The California Coastal Commission will only allow the city to build back to what existed before. Generous federal monies might not be here again and a rising sea-level will take a toll on the road, McCormick said.

Despite the parameters, the long-term vision is an endeavor of positive thinking, according to McCormick.

Huffaker also sees the potential for a plan which gets us, “off the hamster-wheel of dealing with impact after impact and looking at it with a much broader comprehensive vision of what really is a world-class coastline that we all really have come to appreciate and love.”

The community participation aspect of the meeting was structured around groups ranking six “themes” on their importance for West Cliff in 50 years. Participants shared many different priorities, but two themes came up the most: “safeguard coastal resources” and “maximize access to the coast.”

While the meeting was focused on 50 years from now, the immediate implication of the collapsed roadway as winter approaches could not be avoided.

“If we don’t fix this and where we are headed right now, we’re not [going to fix the drive.] This infill wall is not going to fix it. We’re going to have nothing,” said Al Ramadan of Save West Cliff. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. God, I’m honestly surprised. Mr. Woodhams’ reporting of this topic, which, ordinarily, would be incredibly mundane, evokes within me the desire to do something about this troubling issue. Perhaps it is the discerning vigor with which he writes, I must read more to be sure.

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  2. Mr. Woodhams has done it again. This man constantly writes the best articles I’ve ever read, and I would let him take my wife out if he wanted to ;).

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