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In Ventura, a retreat in the face of a rising sea

Higher ocean levels force Ventura officials to move facilities inland, an action that is expected to recur along the coast as the ocean rises over the next century.

January 16, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

In Santa Barbara, homes with exposed pillars teeter on the edge of the fast-eroding oceanside cliffs of Isla Vista. Residents on the bluffs of Pacifica in Northern California have had to evacuate their mobile homes and apartments as waves pounded dangerously close.

Where residents have chosen to erect sea walls to protect their homes, including mansions built along Malibu's Broad Beach and beachside mobile homes in San Clemente, the sands have narrowed so dramatically that walking along the seashore is impossible except at low tide.

Experts point to one shoreline where a planned retreat has worked.

The historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina was in danger of being lost to severe shoreline erosion until 1999, when the National Park Service relocated it 2,900 feet inland.

Goleta Beach County Park in Santa Barbara County could be the next location for a planned retreat. Officials there are watching Ventura closely as they develop plans for a beach that has receded hundreds of feet since the 1970s.

Park officials want to remove two parking lots, a bike path and underground utility lines that are dangerously close to the sea and move them up to 120 feet inland.

The idea has been unpopular with some because it would mean giving up about an acre of public land to potentially be overtaken by the ocean.

Erik Axelson, a deputy director with Santa Barbara County Parks, said the plan is about coming to grips with the future.

"We're recognizing that we're living in a coastal environment that changes," he said. "And we want to work with that change and move things out of harm's way."

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