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Surfers Point: Making Advances on Shoreline Retreat

By: Tony Keith

Walking along any portion of California’s coast, visitors can observe an ever-changing environment where the tides, waves, shifting sands, and shorebirds all move in concert with the soothing rhythms of the sea. But when the winter El Nino storms come to the West Coast, serenity gives way to the awesome, destructive powers of nature, placing in jeopardy the public improvements that allow us to enjoy the elemental edge where water meets the shore. Nowhere is this more apparent than the city of Ventura’s beaches that flank its distinctive pier, and no agency is more aware of this than the California Coastal Commission.

The long time struggles to protect Ventura Pier and its adjacent shoreline are well known. The last three decades have witnessed a consistent cycle of storm damage and reconstruction, only to bear subsequent storms destroying the very facilities that have been repaired. Now, with the coming phenomenon of sea level rise and climate change expected to result in an increase of anywhere between 15 inches to 3 1/2 feet in sea levels before the end of this century, a new paradigm is needed to address how to protect coastal areas in ways that respect the natural processes that impact our coastal areas. The restoration of Surfers Point just west of Ventura Pier may just be that new paradigm.

Surfers Point is a  south facing beach long revered by the surf community for its consistent break that define it as one of the best West Coast surfing locations. Consistent spring and summer winds blow at just the right angle to the beach make it one of the most popular locations for kite surfing in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. After the storms of 1998 once again destroyed a previously repaired parking lot and bike trail just upland from the beach, the Coastal Commission stipulated that the damaged improvements could no longer be repaired in place, thus spurring a 10 year effort to redefine how a set of sustainable public improvements could be planned and designed while remaining sensitive to shoreline retreat. Soon thereafter, a group of stakeholders would be formed to resolve what would be rebuilt, what methods would be used, and where the ultimate improvements should ultimately be installed. Such diverse stakeholders as the city of San Buenaventura, the Ventura County Fairgrounds’ Board of Directors, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Coastal Conservancy, the Surfrider Foundation, and the Ventura Bicycle Coalition each brought their own desires and priorities to the mix. Cognizant of environmental constraints, aware of their jurisdictional conflicts, and passionate about their individual needs, this unlikely group of collaborators would soon redefine coastal development as we know it.

Out of the process emerged a plan for Surfers Point that embraced sustainability, responded to the ever present forces of the sea and its storms, accommodated diverse operational needs, restored lost habitat, and created an environment for people to enjoy one of California’s great beaches (see figure 1). In moving its parking area and bike path some 60-100 feet further inland from the coast, the plan uses natural systems and engineering solutions to treat and improve storm water quality, recycled asphalt and concrete to create permeable parking areas, and placed over 40,000 cubic yards of local river cobble beneath the former parking lot to create a flexible natural structure to withstand beach scour and restore the beach and new upland improvements. Further elements of the plan include a new multi-use bike and pedestrian path, the rehabilitation of dune habitat, an oceanfront park area adjacent to existing restroom facilities, and a whimsical “Cobble Garden” that will invite the creation of natural sculptures (figure 2).

The result: the first ever Managed Shoreline Retreat project approved by the California Coastal Commission that has since witnessed its first phase of construction per the plans prepared by RRM Design Group , Phillip Williams and Associates, and Rincon Consultants, Inc. Now awaiting further grant funding to complete the project, the eventual facilities will be used daily by locals to enjoy the surf, walk, jog, and bike along a segment of an extensive linear coastal bike and pedestrian trail. Surfers Point will also support the operational needs of the adjacent Ventura County Fairgrounds that hosts multiple events welcoming tens of thousands of visitors to enjoy such occasions as the Van’s Warped Tour Concert and the annual Ventura County Fair.

Surfers Point indeed represents a true paradigm for coastal planning tomorrow. Using new methods to provide a better interface between natural forces and the built environment, this project teaches us that we must adapt our design and building practices to an ever-changing world or face the consequences. It also teaches us that diverse groups and agencies can move from contention to consensus in adapting our communities, our patterns of use, and even our thinking in preserving our coastline. The work is hard and the hours are long, but the rewards for working with nature are there for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

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RRM Design Group - As professional problem solvers and designers, we are interested in the world around us, the people who live in it, and the places that inspire them. We are driven by a desire to help our clients achieve their dreams. That is why we are in business. RRM Design Group is an award-winning design firm of architects, civil engineers, landscape architects, planners, surveyors, and LEED® accredited professionals. Our work includes architectural rendering, mixed use development, community planning and development, and urban design and planning, among numerous other project types. Since 1974, RRM has been inspired by the power of Creating Environments People Enjoy®.