Mayor Robert Garcia, Congressman Alan Lowenthal and Army Corps of Engineers Major General Donald Jackson sign the breakwater study into action at Alamitos Beach. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
With the calm waters off the coast of Alamitos Beach serving as the backdrop, Mayor Robert Garcia and other elected officials convened on the sands of Long Beach to sign a historic agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers that will launch a study to look at the feasibility of potential alterations to the city’s breakwater.
The San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration Study was inked into action this afternoon, kickstarting a three-year study by the Army Corp that will assess how much, if any, of the breakwater off the coast of the city can be altered or removed entirely in an effort to increase water circulation in the bay. Garcia was joined at the ceremony by Congressman Alan Lowenthal, Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price and representatives from the Army Corps to enact the historic study.
The move had been the focus of advocacy groups like the Long Beach Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation as well as Garcia, who had pushed for the study since 2007 during his time as a councilman. The mayor made the initial announcement last November that the Army Corps agreed to partner with the city to carry out the study, today served as the formal start date of the three-year study.
“I believe that getting the science and the data will allow us to look at what the possibilities are,” Garcia said. “Obviously, when you look out on this coastline, the fact that we have what is probably the largest breakwater, certainly on the West Coast, but possibly in the entire United States has had an impact on our community. It’s changed our coast, it’s changed the beach, it’s changed the way we interact with the water.”
Whether or not that becomes a reality will rely on the Army Corps assessment of how increased wave activity might affect critical infrastructure in the city, especially its main economic driver: the Port of Long Beach.
The scope of the study will include the exploration of ways to possibly restore aquatic ecosystems in the bay and how to better improve water circulation, something that is needed to help clear out debris that washes out from the Los Angeles River and is deposited into the waters off Long Beach. The study is expected to be completed in three years, at a cost of $3 million with the city and the Army Corps splitting that cost.
Army Corps of Engineers Major General Donald E. Jackson echoed Garcia’s comments that that this project really came together because of the commitment by both the city and the Corps to work together.
“We have a unique opportunity, and a challenging task,” Jackson said. “To investigate together how we can best restore a Southern California coastal marine environment located in a heavily urbanized location, near one of the world’s largest port complexes, at the mouth of one of the nation’s most altered rivers, the Los Angeles River.”
Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga who serves on the Coastal Commission said that there are a variety of issues the commission will be monitoring as this project progresses, namely the rising sea levels.
“One of the biggest concerns we have as a coastal commission is sea level rise,” Uranga said. “The effect that sea level rise is already having up and down the coast when it comes to any kind of developments and trying to protect them and make sure they’re not under water in 50 or 100 years from now.”
Flooding had been a major component of some residents’ arguments against changing the breakwater’s configuration, especially those on the peninsula that are sensitive to rising waters already. However, because a study had never been done to truly assess the potential affects of augmenting the breakwater, those arguments have been mostly conjecture.
Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price said ending that speculation, which is never productive, is what makes her most excited about the signing of today’s agreement with the Army Corps, adding that the data that comes out of the study will provide both the elected officials in the city and its citizens with indisputable information that should put an end to speculation from either side of the breakwater argument.
“You really can’t argue with the data that I know we’re going to receive from these professionals that are dedicated to the concept of ecosystem restoration and the risks associated with any modification to any infrastructure such as homes, our maritime operations and our port, which is incredibly important to the economic health of this city,” Price said.
The breakwater, which was completed in 1949, transformed what was once regarded as the “Waikiki of the West Coast” to a waveless, and often deserted shoreline. Annual paddle out events hosted by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell in conjunction with the Surfrider Foundation have been held as a sort of mourning of the waves that once crashed on the Long Beach shoreline.
Robert Palmer and Seamus Innes from Surfrider have over 15 years of advocacy invested in the breakwater study that was signed this afternoon. Innes agreed that today marked a historic beginning for the Long Beach shoreline, but also said it served as a sense of validation for the work that he and Palmer and the rest of those in favor of the study have put in.
“It’s a nice validation to go from people telling us that we’re crazy and it’ll never happen and laughing at us to actually having congressmen, the mayor and generals and colonels here saying that ‘hey, maybe this is a good idea,’” Innes said.
Palmer said that it’s important that the study take place and hopes that it yields results that allow for at least some wave activity to be reintroduced to the city’s coast so the beach can drop the label of being a wasted asset. Remarking on the fact that Long Beach has just been reclassified as the “Aquatic Capital of the World," Palmer said it’s a bit misleading, since so few people actually go in the water.
The group argues that there are number of positive impacts, besides those that affect the environment and recreational abilities in Long Beach. If it’s found that the breakwater can be reconfigured, they believe the economy can benefit both from rising home values but also keeping beach goers inside Long Beach, along with all the revenue they would otherwise take to surrounding cities' beachfronts.
For Surfrider, the signing of today’s agreement with the Army Corps was a great start to what they hope will end with a best case scenario, where Long Beach once again has a vibrant, well-attended beachfront accompanied by the long-gone sounds of waves crashing down on its sandy shores.
“Our vision involves removing as much of the breakwater as possible down to maybe 30 feet below sea level so we can get as much wave action as possible,” Innes said. “We’d like see waves and habitat restoration and recreation along the whole beach of Long Beach while at the same time maintaining flood protection at the level that it is or maybe better.”