West Coast
A sinkhole that opened up on West Cliff Drive on Jan. 5.(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

CA - ‘Managed retreat is on the table’: City discusses West Cliff’s future, will explore expanding one-way

Santa Cruzans could soon see West Cliff Drive become a one-way street all the way from Bay Street to Woodrow Avenue as city officials begin to seriously consider implementing a managed retreat strategy for the iconic stretch of coastal road.

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The City of Santa Cruz is seriously exploring a managed retreat strategy for West Cliff Drive after several sections were damaged by storms and coastal erosion, city officials told a public meeting Monday night.

That includes plans to launch a pilot project for a one-way street by expanding the current one-way section between Woodrow Avenue and Columbia Street all the way to Bay Street by the Dream Inn — about a mile of coastal road.

Managed retreat, a process to relocate community infrastructure away from coastlines and other environmentally sensitive areas, has been tossed around by city officials, but never fully considered. In November, the city’s sustainability and climate action manager, Tiffany Wise-West, told Lookout the idea of a one-way street was just a concept and the city was still exploring its feasibility.

But on Monday, Wise-West told around 130 residents who gathered online and in person at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center that January’s barrage of atmospheric rivers had caused certain triggers — events that point to the need to change or adapt infrastructure — to occur, suddenly breathing new life into the possibility of managed retreat.

In this case, that trigger is substantial erosion leading to the loss of public access in the coastal zone, which had not been expected to happen for another 15 to 30 years, Wise-West said.

“We have this unique opportunity to pilot the one-way that’s in place now and understand the implications on neighborhoods,” she said. “Managed retreat is on the table, and we have exceeded triggers that indicate we need to be seriously considering it.”

However, officials didn’t offer a timeline for when that one-way expansion might happen.

The city is also developing a coastal change monitoring network consisting of camera sites, annual drone surveying and community science stations along the road where residents can help observe changes in the coast.

Monday night’s meeting largely focused on storm impacts and explaining the West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan, a variety of projects seeking to armor cliffs, stabilize caves, upgrade drainage systems and bolster existing infrastructure in preparation for continued erosion. The plan has not yet been approved by the California Coastal Commission.

The coming changes will happen through a “roadmap process,” which means that the city will build on the West Cliff adaptation plan and, City Manager Matt Huffaker said, facilitate a “robust community engagement process” with the shared goal of securing West Cliff’s future.

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