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The problems of erosion are clear — solutions are not

Can you place this photo? Though hard to recognize during the summer, this is not an abandoned industrial coastline. This is the most popular beach on the San Mateo County Coastside. It is where the majority of visitors from over the hill get their first look at the Pacific Ocean. It is an area that teems with surfers, sunbathers and kids splashing in the waves. This is Surfer’s Beach last February, and it is disappearing.

Ever since the first day that the outer breakwater of Pillar Point Harbor was constructed, the natural movement of sand was altered. We now face the dilemma of having too much sand where we don’t want it (at the boat launch and the southern corner of the harbor) and too little where we do want it (Surfer’s Beach, the Princeton Shoreline, and near the trail to Mavericks).

A recently formed Pillar Point Harbor Shoreline Erosion Committee, spearheaded by Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, met recently to open up the discussion and look for possible answers. One thing became clear: The solution is murkier than the harbor water in winter. There is an alphabet soup of agencies involved and an insanely cumbersome permit process. In addition, there are also vocal advocates of each area of the harbor making their case as to where the precious sand should be moved.

The unfortunate reality is that any solution, short of complete removal of the breakwater, is temporary. Mother Nature is relentless. Dredging, riprap, concrete barricades, drainage pipes are just stopgap measures. But, if we want to keep the harbor (and I believe that feeling is unanimous), those stopgap measures will need many more resources than are currently devoted to them. Emergency dredging and a yearlong wait for a permit to do so won’t cut it. The Santa Cruz Harbor has a year-round dredging program to keep its waterway clear. Waikiki Beach imports its sand from Molokai to keep it replenished. Those are the costs for these man-made intrusions.

Putting in the breakwater in the early ’60s was a trade-off. We gained a valuable, safe harbor for our particularly rugged coastline, but took on the responsibility of maintaining the areas that this structure negatively impacts. Many are realizing now that we have not kept that part of the bargain.

Editor’s note: You can find the agenda and slide presentation of the recent Pillar Point Harbor Shoreline Erosion Committee meeting at www.midcoastcommunitycouncil.org or check montarafog.com for a video of the meeting.


Just as it was the Harbor District's job to protect the harbor, it is also their job to mitigate problems caused by their solution. As you mentioned, this is being done at other harbors up and down the coast. Sabrina has taken the first steps, finally, and it is the rest of the Board's responsibility to step up and support her in this. Not only is Surfer's Beach impacted, but so is Highway 1, the only through road between the mountains and the shore. If money is an issue, more would be available by just scaling back the Commissioners' hefty salaries and benefits to the level of other elected officials in Coastside districts. There is no reason for them to milk the district of all that money when it is needed for the Harbor District projects! They even get paid for meetings they don't attend!

Web Link

The real question is, why wasn't this started sooner? It's not a new discovery; the problem has been known about for a long time!

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