PACIFICA — The crumbling coastal bluff behind 330 Esplanade Ave. no longer is tumbling into the Pacific Ocean, but the nearly 100,000 pounds of rock put in place to shore it up is only a temporary fix and officials aren't sure when residents will be able to return.
Construction crews have been working up to 16 hours a day since Friday, using a crane to lower rocks onto the beach behind the evacuated 12-unit building. The same pounding waves and high tides that tore off large sections of the bluff Thursday, leaving the building at risk of tumbling down the cliff, have made it is nearly impossible for crews to work on the beach below. They will be working at least until the end of the week, officials said.
Tony Fortunato, of Engineered Soil Repairs Inc., a firm hired by the building's owners to stop the erosion, said the rocks will keep the bluff from shrinking any further while engineers decide on a long-term plan. No parts of the cliff have fallen since Saturday.
Workers are trying to build a road down to the beach so that the work will go faster, but waves and tides have made for slow going, Fortunato said. About 200,000 pounds of rock will be lowered onto the beach by the time the emergency repairs are done, at a cost of at least $400,000, according to owner Farshid Samsami.
The repairs come at least two years after Samsami applied for a permit to bolster the cliff. He has said previously that the California Coastal Commission dragged its feet in responding to his application.
But Ruby Papp, the commission's supervisor for the north central coast, said Samsami got a permit in March but didn't use it. Samsami declined to discuss the matter on Monday, but it appears the work wasn't done due to a disagreement with a neighboring property owner over access.
In the meantime, residents who fled the apartments are trying to get on with their lives, said property manager Randy Nelson, who also lived at the site. He said he talked to all the former tenants on Sunday and each has found a place to stay. Some are with family or friends, while others have signed new leases.
The challenge the residents face now is trying to find their belongings, Nelson said. During the chaotic evacuation on Thursday, residents' possessions got mixed together — now they're in the process of figuring out who has what.
"It's a challenge," he said. "But everybody's got a place to stay."
It will be awhile before the tenants can go back to their old apartments, officials said. Even after the emergency repairs are done and the cliff is stabilized, they won't be able to return immediately, said Pacifica building official Doug Rider. He first will have to declare the building safe for habitation, and that won't happen until engineers have enough faith in the structure to recommend that it be declared livable.
Project engineer Steve O'Connor said crews likely will build a wall at the base of the bluff to protect it from waves and then reinforce the higher reaches to prevent more soil from tumbling off. Samsami said the price for all of the repairs will be millions of dollars.
Work on the second phase of the repairs is a long way from beginning. O'Connor said he will begin assessing the state of the cliff next week after the emergency repairs are finished. Once they have a clear idea of what needs to be done, crews will have to get permits from the California Coastal Commission. The owners already have begun the process for obtaining those permits and hope to have it completed by March.
Officials said Monday it was not clear if this work would have to be completed before residents can move back in. Then there's the question of whether they will want to come back.
"I think it's premature to have that conversation," Nelson said.