But in the case of the Ladera Street stairs in Sunset Cliffs, it has instead stoked a public debate over government accountability, cliff erosion and beach access.
On Aug. 6, the City Council allocated $1.8 million in Regional Park Improvement Funds for the Ladera Street Beach Access Stairway Emergency Project. That stairway has been closed and chained-off since a Feb. 13 cliff landslide impaired access to the beach below.
However, due to its being deemed an “emergency,” the stairwell project has been fast-tracked, which hasn’t sat well with nearby Sunset Cliffs neighbors.
The response from Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council, a citizen’s advisory group for the 68-acre Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, was immediately negative. The same day, the Council voted for emergency Ladera repairs, SCNPC voted unanimously to recommend that the City do a full environmental impact review of the emergency Ladera Street stabilization proposal before moving forward.
The group also recommended that the City consider moving the coastal access farther south for Garbage Beach access, instead of pursuing the emergency proposal for bluff stabilization at the Ladera Street access. Longtime SCNPC member Ann Swanson said everyone was surprised by the Council action to do emergency repairs.
“I knew they had closed the stairs and were trying to figure out what should be done,” Swanson said. “But we did not know until Aug. 3 that emergency repairs were a docketed item for Aug. 6. They were calling it an emergency. But it happened in February. They were trying to bypass us.”
Swanson said community planners’ ire was raised when they learned the project had already received all the necessary permitting to do stairwell repairs, and could move forward soon, because it was declared an emergency.
City spokesperson Alec Phillip said repairing the Ladera Street staircase is actually not part of the present scope of work because “damage to the hand railing, not the stairs, was minor and the stairs can be reopened in the future.”
“This project was triggered when portions of the bluff collapsed onto the stairs below, and once complete, it will mitigate the geologic hazard adjacent to the stairs for increased public safety, and to ensure emergency personnel have adequate access to the beach,” Phillip said.
The scope of work, said Phillip, will remove any potential loose material from the vertical cliff face, and grade back only the portions of the bluff that overhang the vertical face. “A consultant is on board to evaluate the drainage in the area to determine if the drainage is affecting the bluff stability,” he said. “Should drainage issues be identified, they will be addressed as part of the emergency stabilization of the bluff,” Phillip said. “We are not proposing a reconstruction of the cliff. The project is intended to stabilize what exists currently. Only loose material and apparent hazards that appear likely to fall will be scaled from the cliff face.”
Phillip noted that a geotechnical consultant will be on site during all grading and scaling work to ensure that the stability of the bluff is not further compromised.
Currently closed beach access at Ladera “will cause police, fire, EMS and lifeguard personnel to experience delayed response to beach emergencies and water rescues and longer extrication times at this location,” said Phillip.
Regarding alleged lack of public accountability, Phillip said: “Since this is a declared emergency, there is no time to solicit and implement public comments into design. Our goal is to rectify the emergency situation as quickly as possible.”
Replying to arguments that Ladera Street stairwell doesn’t need repair, Phillip pointed out the stairs are in “fair condition structurally with normal wear and tear.” But he added: “While stairs are in good working order, there are public safety concerns related to further cliff erosion. The potential for additional bluff collapses, which may impact both the stairs and the lower landing area, are the primary reasons it was decided that the stairs should remain closed.”
Phillip noted the City is considering alternate access points for this area of Sunset Cliffs with “nothing definitive at this time.” He estimated a construction duration of two to four months for the Ladera project.
SCNPC member Cordelia (Dedi) Ridenour is concerned Ladera repairs will be impactful for years to come.
“Younger-generation park users tell me they don't want to see the cliffs torn down, seawalls, rip-rap or other damage done under an emergency permit anywhere along the cliff,” Ridenour said. “They fear this emergency permit is setting a dangerous precedent. They wonder why we have environmental laws if we don't enforce them.”