A state report due this month on Ventura's battered pier will play a key role in determining whether the 1,700-foot landmark is reopened or demolished.
The report, after nearly two years of wrangling over the pier's fate, will evaluate how much additional commercial development would be necessary to make the structure financially self-sufficient, said Joan Cardellino, an Oakland-based project analyst for the California Coastal Conservancy.
Preliminary estimates show that 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of restaurants and shops would have to be developed at the pier's base in order to generate the $115,000 needed annually for maintenance and emergency reserves, she said.
That compares to 62,500 square feet of commercial space at the Santa Monica pier and about 30,000 square feet at Santa Barbara's Stearns Wharf. The Ventura pier already is home to a seafood restaurant, snack bar and bait shop.
"The community has expressed a pretty strong desire to keep the pier as much in its current flavor as possible," said Cardellino, whose agency works to provide visitor facilities along the state's coastline. "The conservancy is trying to figure out what is the minimum amount of commercial development that would sustain it."
If an acceptable commercial plan can be developed, there is a good chance the city could preserve the long-cherished jetty by taking over ownership from the state, said Barbara Harison, the city's parks and recreation director.
Any transfer of ownership, however, would also depend on the city's ability to pay for the $2.5 million in repairs needed to rehabilitate the 116-year-old structure, Harison added.
"If everything is in place . . . I think there's a good possibility the city can do it," she said. "But we're not going to go in debt over that thing."
In the first step toward lining up those funds, the City Council voted last week to apply for a $500,000 state grant that could be used toward restoration of the pier. The city would have to assume ownership of the structure in order to accept the grant, but the application itself does not obligate officials to making the transfer, Harison said.
While Ventura officials said they are hopeful that other grants will be available, Cardellino said her analysis shows that the city will have to spend some money on repairs. She declined to discuss that figure.
"It's not like all the funding is going to come from outside sources," she said. "The city will have to make some contribution . . . to make the whole puzzle fit together."
If, however, the city decides that the financial burden is too great, officials for the state Department of Parks and Recreation have said that their own fiscal woes would probably force them to demolish the pier.
"If it stays in our ownership, that is the major consideration," said Steve Treanor, superintendent for the Channel Coast District of the state Department of Parks and Recreation.
The hockey stick-shaped structure, which was built in 1872 as a private commercial wharf, has survived a long history of damage and disaster.
In 1914, huge waves drove the steamship Coos Bay into the pier, opening a 200-foot gap. In 1926, it was wrecked by a big storm that also drowned the San Buenaventura Wharf Co.'s bookkeeper. A fire in 1934 destroyed the landward section.
The owners rebuilt the pier in 1938, but rising labor costs and a growing demand for deep-water ports soon sounded its death knell as a commercial wharf.
The city bought the pier about 1940 but sold it to the state after several years of high maintenance costs.
Today, nearly two-thirds of the decaying landmark is closed because of damage from a 1986 storm. Once, tourists were able to stroll along its wide planks to a point so far from shore they could barely hear the surf.
Now, they are greeted by a chain-link fence and a sign that warns, "Keep Off: Structure Unsafe."
A state consultant has concluded that the pier poses a liability and has recommended that it be demolished.
To prevent that, more than 15,000 people signed petitions last year urging the state to repair the wooden landmark. A citizens committee was formed to study the matter.
In June, 1987, the Pier Steering Committee issued a report calling for a transfer in ownership of the structure from the state to a local governmental entity.
Committee Chairman Tom Buford, president of the Greater Ventura Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased with the progress being made to transfer ownership but complained that the process should have been started before storm damage made it necessary.
"I don't think two or three years to put together a plan and funding basis is unreasonable," Buford said. "The sad fact is that the pier has been closed during this time, instead of being open."