Santa Cruz WSR: Update on the Opal Cliffs Project

Our mission at Save The Waves is to protect surf ecosystems across the globe. But some of our projects and passions are a lot closer to home: Santa Cruz is the 4th World Surfing Reserve, stretching from Natural Bridges to Opal Cliffs. As a World Surfing Reserve, we work to leverage this designation, the community and Santa Cruz’s outstanding waves to help protect coastal resources.


Currently, Opal Cliffs is part of the Shoreline Protection Exception Area (SPEA) of the proposed Santa Cruz County Local Coastal Plan (LCP) Amendment. 


Save The Waves, alongside the Local Stewardship Council of the Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve, are concerned with certain provisions of the Land Use Plan and updates to the Implementation Plan of the LCP relating to Santa Cruz County’s coastal hazards response. The updates allow extensive hard armoring along the Opal Cliffs area which is a critically important zone for coastal recreation and surfing as well as marine wildlife.


Most importantly, the plan allows for hard armoring, but does not consider the relevant impacts to surf resources and the effects of climate change and sea level rise over the long term. 


Any significant alterations to the coastline and the bluffs in Santa Cruz may have impacts on coastal processes and need to have a more significant community engagement process where local surfers, community stakeholders beyond the ocean front property owners, and including members of the public such as visitors who enjoy the beach and surf resources have the opportunity to learn about the proposed changes and can participate in a forum to have their questions answered and concerns incorporated.


We do not believe that the plan as written has adequately addressed the above topics of concern and we therefore agree with the Coastal Commission staff report that the proposed LCP amendment should be denied.


Save The Waves and the World Surfing Reserve believe that a different approach should be considered in order to protect surf resources. We must ensure that efforts to protect public and private infrastructure from sea level rise integrate actions, policies, mitigation and monitoring and incorporate a wide variety of options that consider the long-term vision for the Santa Cruz coast. 


The Coastal Commission staff notes in their report that the best approach moving forward is to find consensus between all relevant stakeholders as well as clarify and simplify the objectives of the project. We believe that the World Surfing Reserve can function as a relevant community platform to 1) discuss the key issues at stake, 2) ensure the public and the surfing community can participate and 3) help determine how to best protect coastal resources in the face of climate change and sea level rise.


In conclusion, we have asked that the Coastal Commission deny the proposal for East Cliff Armoring in the current Local Coastal Plan Amendment for Santa Cruz County at this time, and include a robust community process to ensure that surf resources are accounted for and broad consensus is reached among key stakeholders.  


We are excited to work with the County on a plan that ensures the protection of the coastline and waves of the Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve.


If you wish to listen in and want to see how this project is voted on or make a public comment, join the Coastal Commission hearing this Friday October 14th. Find more information at: https://www.coastal.ca.gov/meetings/agenda/#/2022/10




Shaun Burns

Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve Coordinator



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