Local Politics

Isla Vista bluff top owners facing new proposed rules that could shrink properties

Erosion issues continue

Isla Vista bluff top erosion is taking place at a rate higher than what had been calculated. New safety rules for property owners are expected soon. (John Palminteri/KEYT.com)

ISLA VISTA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County officials are changing some of the safety wording in documents specifically for Isla Vista bluff top properties where erosion is ongoing.

The county has met with about 30 owners to explain the changes. Roughly 80 parcels are impacted.

The distance between the buildings and the edge of the bluffs is measured often, and is the basis for the policy upgrades. 

Significant erosion has been occurring, according to Santa Barbara County Building and Safety official Steve Mason.

"This is all about safety. The last time when the 15 feet collapsed it went right up to the edge of the buildings so if that structure had been at five feet we could have had an undermining of the structure," said Mason.

In the current guidelines, property owners are notified at a 15-foot distance and they are in violation at 10 feet. They have to take immediate action if the distance from the eroding bluff and their property is five feet. That is when a notice to vacate is issued.

The current policy can be found here.

The new rules have the notices going out at 25 feet. That places the property on a list that is closely watched by the county staff.

A "Notice of Violation" occurs at 20 feet and an action plan is ordered.

If erosion reduces the distance to 15 feet or less, the owner may be issued a “Notice and Order to Vacate Building and Abate.”   

The action is taken by the County of Santa Barbara Building and Safety Division. 

The measurements are done after a detailed geotechnical review of the area. The county has the guidelines on file and online.

Some property owners will have to take action once the new guidelines are in place. That is expected possibly in the next three months.  

There are already properties on a "watch" list. Experts are checking the area frequently.

"The 15 feet will impact some of the structures out there today," said Mason.

Soon new 3D drone equipment will be used to view the bluffs at different elevations, record the images and compare them to what was there previously. Mason said the sophisticated equipment can do detailed measurements from different angles and heights.

The staff not only walks on the beach to inspect erosion but responds where incidents occur to determine if something out of the ordinary has happened. The bluff top area is viewed in a broad overall inspection, but certain areas depending on the ocean impacts, sea walls, rock formations and past history may get more attention.

Some of the buildings are currently on the market. One is eight bedrooms and listed for $1.6 million and a 17-bedroom building is offered at $4.95 million.


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