Locals speak out on Gleason Beach

Locals speak out on Gleason Beach

If this project is built as currently proposed, those who traverse this segment of Highway One will one day surely exclaim “what were they thinking?”  


May 7, 2018


California Coastal Commission

45 Fremont Street, #1900

San Francisco, CA 94105


Chair Bocho and Commissioners:


RE: Application No. 2-18-0078 (California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Gleason Beach, Sonoma Co.) Agenda Item 10.b. Thursday May 10, 2018 Commission Meeting/Postponed


I submit these comments for your consideration regarding the above application.


The staff quotes “This realignment project is an adaptation success story for California as it results in relocating critical infrastructure inland, restoring shoreline areas to their natural state, and otherwise allowing natural processes along this stretch of coast to continue and reach their natural equilibrium.” indicates the project is a success story.


Further is the quote, “Staff believes that the proposed project, as conditioned, represents the balance that is most protective of significant coastal resources, including providing for significant restoration along the existing highway alignment, the restoration and enhancement of Scotty Creek and wetlands, as well as construction of the CCT and related public access improvements adjacent to the shoreline.”


The above quotes attempt to make an over the top, over engineered, out of context bridge design appear appropriate. It may be staff’s role to condition and, what in this case was a herculean task, attempt to make an application by a sister state agency able to be recommended for approval.


It doesn’t make it right to approve this project.


I submit that many in this community disagree with the sentiment that this project as conditioned is or will be “a success story.”


If this project is built as currently proposed, those who traverse this segment of Highway One will one day surely exclaim “what were they thinking?”  


And while the first to be criticized will be Caltrans, the onus for the most important permit; the most critical project approval will fall to the California Coastal Commission – the entity the public looks to as the protector of our beautiful scenic coast line.


A community leach field that serves the 6 remaining residences along the coastal bluff and is located to the east of the current highway alignment, is the primary impediment cited by Caltrans to justify the realignment of Highway One further inland than would otherwise be needed. The community leach field was the solution to the failing/eroding away original septic systems on the bluff for each of the individual houses.


Erosion problems at Gleason Beach and the adjacent cliffs are not currently a function of sea level rise, but rather stem primarily from unstable soils and erosion originating with a mid-cliff aquifer outflowing from a perched water table at the site, combined with sporadic cliff base erosion from large waves associated with seasonal major storm events. The failing septic leach field now located slightly inland of the highway no doubt contributes to the problem.


These conditions then contributed to the design of a longer and higher raised alignment approach that Caltrans claims justifies the increased elevation above grade and oversized scale of their proposed bridge overpass – a 3,700 foot-long project to cross an ephemeral stream that is often not more than four feet wide and inches deep – and to relocate Highway One 400 feet inland. All while impacting an historic ranch along a scenic pastoral section of the highway.


One wonders why the solution to purchase and remove the houses from an unstable and failing coastal bluff, where they would not today be permitted, was not pursued. Why perpetuate and compound mistakes made by Sonoma County in allowing the houses to be constructed and allowing creation of a community leach field that compounded water movement that then exacerbated failing cliffs. Granted these houses were allowed before planning, environmental laws and regulatory processes were in place and before the Coastal Commission was glimmer in anyone’s eye. Regardless…..


One wonders when is it incumbent on the only truly responsible and capable public agency charged with protecting coastal resources to halt the mistakes of the past and end the compounding of mistake after mistake after mistake and poor choices over and over.


Moving south from this location, one sees a number of other instances of cliff failure between Highway One and the ocean – most associated with paved pull outs and parking lots of the Sonoma Coast State Parks beaches. Where is the big picture thinking about what we are fixing on this small section of Highway One with this over the top design and the relationship to these failing sections to the south? Are we building a last bridge standing when all else has will have failed?


I appreciate all of the herculean staff effort to make an over engineered project a positive for the coast with the many many mitigations proposed. Taking nothing from staff, monitoring compliance will be next to impossible, given the staff resources available to oversee permit compliance especially extended over a number of years.


I urge the Commission to take a step back and send Caltrans back to the drawing board to engineer a project more in keeping with this very rural stretch of Highway One. One that does not perpetuate bad decisions of the past and significantly adversely impact irreplaceable coastal resources.


Thank you for your consideration of my comments.