Residents of coastal community in California face eviction over erosion

PACIFICA, Calif. — Sonja Thompson lives so close to the edge of an 80-foot bluff above the Pacific Ocean that when paragliders fly by "you can almost high-five them.

See Full Article

"

Having the Pacific as your backyard has its benefits, and its dangers. Crumbling cliffs have forced dozens to leave their homes and others like Thompson may have to join them as EL Nino-fueled storms batter the coast.

Last summer, whale watching was at its prime and people who live on the crumbling cliffs of Pacifica were treated to more than 200 dolphin sightings. The moon and sun rises are spectacular, and the air feels like it's a million miles away from smoggy cityscapes.

"All the nature and wildlife I read about in New York I get to see here up close and personal here," said Druth McClure, who moved from the East Coast to a waterfront apartment here 20 years ago.

But some residents last month came home from work to find yellow "restricted use" tags on their front doors, which required them to start packing.

"At some point and time we won't be able to live here. These cliffs are primarily packed sand so they will no doubt crumble away," said Jackie James, who occasionally stays with her fiancé at an ocean-view apartment still safe to occupy. "What do they say about nature? It's a relentless march."

Pacifica, which means peaceful in Spanish, is anything but that when heavy rains and big surf batter this largely working class city of roughly 40,000, about 16 kilometres south of San Francisco.

The area is one of the two most erosion-prone stretches of the state's coastline, along with the Monterey Bay area, according to Patrick Barnard, a coastal geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sediment from watersheds that historically sustained these beaches and served to protect the cliffs has been greatly reduced by human activity such as damming, flood control and dredging, Barnard said.

Sea level rise has exacerbated the problem, and its projected acceleration over the next century will expose the coast to more wave attack and erosion, he added.

The Pacifica cliffs have been crumbling for decades, as aerial photographs from the California Coastal Records Projects show.

The toll has been heavy in recent years. In 2010, two apartment buildings undermined by previous storms were evacuated and face demolition. Last month, during El Nino storms, residents of another apartment building and two homes were forced to move out. Continuing erosion has left the apartments sitting unsafely on the edge of an 80-foot bluff.

"We're not fearful of falling off. They've been so diligent that they are going to tell us if we are in any imminent danger," said Thompson, who lives in an oceanfront apartment with her wife, Karlie Thompson. The benefits of the beautiful spot, she said, outweigh the worry.

"The paragliders, they are so close you can almost high five them," she said, adding there was one in a Santa suit over the holidays.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and city officials have pledged to seek state and federal assistance.

Still, many forced-out residents say they feel abandoned, left alone to find money for moving, storage lockers and new housing in the pricey San Francisco Bay Area.

"Some of us tried squatting on the first night and almost got arrested," said Gordon King, a 73-year-old disabled Vietnam vet and former merchant marine who lived in a cramped apartment with his wife Lana.

"We've been fighting time," he said while packing their possessions.

The Red Cross gave them $250 but local hotels go for nearly $200 a night so they say they'll likely rely on friends until they can find a new place to plant roots.

Jeff Bowman is in a similar situation.

"I have no job, nowhere to go," he said. Now 55, he is unemployed after being laid off from a job at a supermarket.

"It should be my choice (to stay) rather than being told, 'You gotta go,'" he said, standing not far from the cold pizza on the counter and crushed beer cans in the garbage.

Bowman was paying $1,200 a month for his subsidized apartment, far less than what places go for in San Francisco or other parts of Pacifica.

"I'm just going to get rid of the rest of this stuff, cash in these coins and figure out the rest of my life," he said, pointing to a water jug filled with money.

Just four months before he was told to leave, Michael McHenry, 41, an addiction recovery coach, moved into his one-bedroom oceanfront apartment.

"I'm going to keep fighting," he said. "I don't couch surf nor will I let the city dump me in a homeless shelter to get me to go away."

Standing outside his back door, he looked over the ocean then to the ground. "See the depression starting to form over there? That's all going over very soon."

He knew the apartment was someday going to be deemed unsafe, but figured he had more time.

"I thought I had a year," he said.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Special prosecutor to advise RCMP on B.C. political donations

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER - A special prosecutor has been appointed to provide legal advice to the RCMP over possible violations of British Columbia's Elections Act. A statement from the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch says David Butcher's appointment is in the public interest and he'll help the Mounties with legal advice in an investigation into contributions made to B.C. Source
  • 'Read my lips': Putin denies U.S. election hacking allegations

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin on Thursday emphatically denied allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and said Moscow would maintain hopes of improving relations while waiting for political infighting in Washington to stop. Source
  • Florida man sentenced to five years for DUI crash that killed wife as they had road sex

    World News Toronto Sun
    A Florida man has been sentenced to five years in prison following a booze-fuelled car wreck in 2014 that killed his wife as they had road sex. Matthew Notebaert, 33, told authorities he remembers his wife, Amanda, sitting on his lap before waking up inside their totaled vehicle beside her lifeless body. Source
  • 'I've missed her very much': Ontario man plans reunion with mom after winning lottery

    Canada News CTV News
    An Ontario man is planning to use part of his $12M lottery winnings to reunite with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in 11 years. Sheba Sheba, who lives in Woodbridge, Ont., hasn’t seen his mother, who lives in Lebanon, in 11 years due to distance, health issues and a lack of funds. Source
  • Bombardier under fire for $32.6M US given to executives while taking government cash

    Canada News CBC News
    Bombardier is being slammed for its "sense of entitlement" after awarding $32.6 million US to senior executives even as it laid off thousands of workers and sought government aid. The payout represents an increase of nearly 50 per cent for its top five executives and board chairman, compared with 2015. Source
  • UBC researchers discover marijuana flavour genes, aim to create standards for taste

    Canada News CBC News
    Consumers can trust what varieties of wine taste like regardless of the store they buy it from, and they could soon have similar expectations for strains of marijuana, say researchers at the University of British Columbia. Source
  • 'Angel of Death' serial killer dies after attack in Ohio prison

    World News CTV News
    TOLEDO, Ohio -- A serial killer known as the "Angel of Death" after he admitted killing three dozen hospital patients in Ohio and Kentucky died Thursday, two days after investigators said he was attacked in prison, Ohio's prisons department said. Source
  • Trump takes 1st step in NAFTA renegotiation: Sends draft letter to Congress

    World News CBC News
    The Trump administration has taken an early step in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, sending the U.S. Congress a draft list of priorities for the negotiation that expresses hope for change in a broad range of areas. Source
  • Toronto police charge self-professed psychic with practising witchcraft

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Police in Toronto say they've charged a 37-year-old man with practising witchcraft. Investigators say the accused advertised his services as an astrologer and psychic in February and March. They allege a 44-year-old man who consulted the accused for psychic services earlier this month was told a sick family member had been the victim of an evil spirit. Source
  • Psychic hit with witchcraft charge after man pays $101K to remove evil spirit: police

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Police in Toronto say a psychic has been charged with pretending to practise witchcraft after a customer allegedly paid more than $100,000 to have an "evil spirit" removed. Investigators say the 37-year-old accused advertised his services as an astrologer and psychic in February and March. Source