Capitola Wharf taking a beating, Esplanade taking on water

The Capitola Wharf was damaged during Thursday's massive northwest swell.
(Courtesy Danny Jacobsmeyer)

The worst of possibilities, a massive swell peaking just as the tide was at its highest, may have been avoided in Capitola. But the wharf and Village were still under siege from an angry Pacific Ocean as city workers made efforts to minimize the damage.

As portions of the Capitola Wharf collapsed and oceanfront Esplanade businesses were fighting off water Thursday morning, under siege from one of the biggest northwest swells in recent history, police chief Andy Dally wasn’t quite ready to issue a sigh of relief.

Andy Dally, Capitola Police Chief, watches over the scene Thursday morning.
(Mark Conley / Lookout Santa Cruz)

But as a surfer hyper-attuned to tide and swell, Dally knew that the situation could be much worse. The massive swell had only started filling in and will keep growing in sea height and force late into the PM hours.

By then the nearly 6' high tide that was about to peak at 8:30 a.m. will have given way to a much friendlier low tide (a minus-0.7' at 4 p.m.) that will help keep the harshest lashes of the swell further away from Capitola Village and further below the planks of the 166-year-old wharf.

“Looks like we got a bit lucky with the tide/swell combination,” Dally said.

Capitola’s wasn’t the only wharf taking a licking Thursday morning. A mile down the shore at Seacliff, the pier and what’s left of the Cement Ship were taking an even more violent brunt of the swell.

Dally said the areas of flooding that could potentially damage businesses and homes are in the lower Village stretching from where Zelda’s and the Sand Bar sit over to Britannia Arms and off Riverview Drive where Soquel Creek backflow has caused some surges.

“I’m not sure if they sustained damage” to the inside of buildings,” Dally said, “but some of the decking has been damaged.”

Police and other city workers helped cordon off all car traffic to the village and they weren’t allowing anyone onto the volatile Esplanade zone. A city worker stood in front of Zelda’s with a rake, clearing debris as waves sent ocean water underneath the buildings and into the street.

“We’ve just kinda shut down the downtown village to limit the pedestrian traffic and limit the potential for danger,” he said.

Dally said he wasn’t yet sure of the extent of damage to the wharf.

“We haven’t been able to get out there and take a look yet, but there’s damage on the front end (near to the sand) and then midway there’s some damage,” he said. “I know that we replaced some piles recently but we’re at the beginning phases of it so there’s a lot more work to be done.”

After Thursday’s lashing, there will be more.

“It’s an old wharf and this is a pretty historic storm,” he said. “We’re always worried about the wharf.”

Capitola City Clerk Julia Moss confirmed that the city had been working on securing state and federal funds to make repairs to the wharf before the storm hit.

“So we’ll be seeing if we can connect the dots here and get the repairs done quickly,” she said. “With the storm damage there may be other opportunities for funding reimbursement with things like FEMA, for example.”

The city — which had declared a state of emergency and issued evacuation warnings to approximately 350 residences on Wednesday — held a press conference late morning to address what’s known about the potential damage to the wharf, Esplanade businesses and homes along Riverview Drive.

Mayor Margaux Keiser said “We have sustained some significant damage on the Capitola Wharf. at this point we have received no reports of any significant injuries and we’re just working hard to make sure everyone is staying safe.”

Captain Sarah Ryan of Capitola PD said “We’ve given evacuation notice along the river and now we’re working through some of the damage to the village and the wharf. The village will be closed until we can assess when it’s safe to reenter the village. And we’re hoping the public can bear with us as we figure that out.”

Dally said that whether the city keeps its shelter at Jade Street Park open will depend on whether they decide to keep the evacuation order in place as the next round of storms arrive over the weekend after a brief respite Friday.

“We’re talking to the county and assessing all the weather reports now,” he said.

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