Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County partner up to protect Surfer’s Beach bluffs 

The county of San Mateo and city of Half Moon Bay will contribute $300,000 and $100,000, respectively, for the environmental review and design of the project to strengthen the Surfer's Beach bluffs. - CHRISTA BIGUE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Christa Bigue/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • The county of San Mateo and city of Half Moon Bay will contribute $300,000 and $100,000, respectively, for the environmental review and design of the project to strengthen the Surfer's Beach bluffs.

The crumbling coastline at Surfer's Beach may just get the support it needs.

San Mateo County and the city of Half Moon Bay announced a partnership this month that will provide funds to shore up the seaside bluffs and create a safer passage from state Highway 1 down to the beach known for being a popular surf spot for locals and visitors alike.

After a City Council meeting May 6, Half Moon Bay officials agreed to contribute $100,000 for the project, which calls for the construction of a retaining wall to protect the Pacific Coast Highway embankment and a stairway to connect the paved coastal trail to Surfer's Beach.

County officials will match that amount in addition to a $200,000 allocation from the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill settlement, Supervisor Don Horsley said.

The total cost of the design and preliminary engineering work is about $400,000.

"We have an agreement that the county will contribute $300,000 to the project and Half Moon Bay will contribute $100,000 for the environmental review and design," Horsley said.

Caltrans will pay for and oversee the design work, and the California Coastal Commission will also contribute $15,000 to make improvements to the nearby coastal trail, Horsley added.

The potential project is a "revetment," said Horsley, a 400-foot-long segment of the coastline that will be supported with sloped sheet pilings anchored with riprap, rock used to armor shorelines against erosion and to absorb the force of incoming water.

The locations for the retaining wall, rock slope protection, paved coastal trail and staircase will be determined through a thorough planning, environmental and design process.

"The project scope is subject to change based on findings during the environmental review and permitting phase," Horsley said.

The project was initiated after residents and businesses aired concerns last year that Highway 1 was threatened by constant erosion at Surfer's Beach, Horsley noted.

"I went out with my staff and inspected the path and Highway 1's embankment at Surfer's Beach," Horsley said. "I could see that the path, which is part of the coastal trail, and embankment have been eroded and damaged. We know from Caltrans calculations that 1 to 1½ feet of erosion occurs annually, and that we only have about 2 feet of embankment left before the roadway is potentially undermined."

Initially, Horsley proposed a temporary solution with an emergency barrier, but was sold on the idea for a more permanent solution after a series of meetings with Caltrans and the Coastal Commission.

Still, he estimates the current project on the table is also "a temporary solution, but I would guess that it would last for a couple decades. We anticipate the Coastal Commission will require that various long-term solutions are studied."

Many believe sea-level rise is a major reason for the erosion at Surfer's Beach, while others say the possible cause is the breakwater that was constructed by the Army Corp of Engineers at Pillar Point Harbor.

"The breakwater blocks sand from migrating to the south which, is the natural flow for sand, and instead traps the sand in the harbor," Horsley said.

Currently a study is being conducted by the Army Corps that could provide grant funding to improve the breakwater design, but the effort may be years in the making.

In the meantime, Horsley is optimistic about the improvements to the beach area under the proposal in partnership with several agencies including Half Moon Bay, which owns the land.

"The county, specifically my office together with our Planning Department and county parks, have taken the lead by agreement with the city of Half Moon Bay," Horsley said. "The Half Moon Bay City Council and City Manager Stuart Schillinger have been integral partners in the project."

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