Traffic calming, new infill walls and flying cars on West Cliff: Residents air concerns at wide-ranging meeting

The collapsed walkway on West Cliff Drive between Woodrow Avenue and Columbia Street.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz residents tuned in Tuesday to a West Cliff Conversations virtual meeting, where they said they’d like to see traffic calming and West Cliff Drive access restoration prioritized. The city is holding a second, in-person public meeting about the future of West Cliff on Wednesday.

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A group of around 50 residents told Santa Cruz officials Tuesday night that they want staff to prioritize traffic calming and cliff stabilization along West Cliff Drive as the city embarks on discussions about the long-term future of the crumbling coastal roadway.

In a virtual meeting, staff from the city and from Sacramento-based climate consultant firm Farallon Strategies presented a roadmap, titled “A Resilient West Cliff, Accessible to All,” that lays out short- and long-term projects to protect and strengthen West Cliff Drive in preparation for future climate events.

An in-person meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the downtown London Nelson Community Center.

Though attendees broke out into four separate virtual discussion rooms Tuesday, many residents shared similar concerns about restoring and maintaining access and controlling traffic.

Beth Gibbons, Farallon Strategies’ national resilience lead, said residents who spoke in her virtual discussion room were largely concerned about traffic calming on side streets that have experienced high amounts of traffic since parts of West Cliff Drive have been converted to one-way traffic or closed entirely in the wake of damaging winter storms.

“It brought out this conversation about a desire to see West Cliff as accessible and safe for all types of users, but recognizing that in order to get there, there needs to be an effort around traffic calming,” she said. “It’s creating feelings and realities of being unsafe there, and moving toward the future, we have to plan for how neighborhoods can accommodate different traffic patterns.”

the damaged section of West Cliff Drive just west of Woodrow Avenue on Santa Cruz's Westside
The damaged section of West Cliff Drive just west of Woodrow Avenue on Santa Cruz’s Westside.
(Will McCahill / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Farallon Strategies operations and project lead Jenn McKenzie noted that many attendees in her group pegged cliff stabilization as a top priority.

“There was a concern about safety, and being able to access the road when walking, jogging and cycling,” she said. “There needs to be infill walls so that recreation can happen.”

Future of West Cliff public meeting

The city is holding an in-person meeting at the London Nelson Community Center at 301 Center St. in downtown Santa Cruz on Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Find details and more from previous sessions here.

When it comes to short-term fixes, residents said they wanted access restoration projects, including repairs to the Bethany Curve culvert to maintain the road’s storm water drainage system, repairing and replacing failed riprap, paths and sections of road while considering infill walls and rock protection against some of West Cliff Drive’s hardest-hit stretches.

As for long-term priorities in the 50-year plan, the most important is to survey people who use the road, including tourists and visitors from outside Santa Cruz County, said Al Ramadan, leader of resident group Save West Cliff.

“We want to hear from people whether they come from over the hill, out of state or other countries, because it’s used by so many people,” he told Lookout. “Let’s understand the needs of that broader population.”

Many residents are keen to see projects that make West Cliff more resilient to climate change while minimizing the impact to the natural environment, Ramadan said. Save West Cliff members are in near-unanimous agreement that the city should conduct feasibility studies with the goal of developing a handful of actionable, nature-based solutions — and continue to push for the cooperation of all agencies with jurisdiction over the West Cliff Recreation Area, which spans from the municipal wharf to Natural Bridges State Beach. That includes the City of Santa Cruz Public Works department, California State Parks, the California Coastal Commission and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Farallon Strategies founder Michael McCormick touched on that point, saying that the city is preparing to apply for a variety of federal grants and is connecting with state and federal partners. That includes an application to the Silver Jackets Program — a state and federal interagency partnership designed to identify collaborative solutions to flood risks. City staff has proposed a coastal resiliency project, but has not heard back at this point.

“There is really an important component of engaging with state, federal, regional and local partners,” McCormick said. “They’re a part of the recovery dynamic, but also about bringing resources into the community to think about the decades into the future.”

With the city looking 50 years ahead, residents even raised concerns about the implications of technology and the quickly changing transportation landscape.

“There were also discussions about a no-fly zone or no-vehicles zone,” said McCormick, adding that residents talked about how changing mobility options and the potential for innovations like Santa Cruz-based Joby Aviation’s air taxis aiming to take flight in coming years could change the way people travel.

That roadmap is still in its early stages, as only the immediate post-disaster projects spanning the next three years are approved, such as a cave study on the west side of Lighthouse Point and a coastal monitoring program to track the changes in the coastline.

A section of the West Cliff roadmap titled “Beyond Three Years” is listed as “to be developed.” Tuesday’s meeting kicked off the document’s community review process as ordered by Santa Cruz City Council in late May.