The battered Capitola Wharf at sunset on Thursday, January 5.
A large section of the Capitola Wharf was destroyed Jan. 5.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Storms 2023: Road to Recovery

Capitola Wharf repairs to begin in September, with plans to reopen next summer

The Capitola Wharf has been inaccessible since the first week of the year, when raging swells from the winter storms damaged wharf infrastructure and split the deck. With a project to repair and strengthen the wharf set to begin next month, project leads hope to avoid further winter weather delays.

The Capitola Wharf has been closed to the public since the first week of 2023, having been split in two by violent swells slamming the structure during the winter’s torrential atmospheric rivers. Now, the city is readying to begin repairs and strengthening of the battered wharf in September, with a goal of reopening it by late next summer.

Earlier this summer, the City of Capitola signed a $7.4 million contract with Southern California-based Cushman Contracting Corporation to carry out the project. Capitola Public Works Project Manager Kailash Mozumder said that the money is coming from a mix of federal and state funding, Capitola’s general fund and revenue from the city’s 2016 Measure F, which extended what was a temporary a quarter-cent sales tax through at least 2026.

The broken deck is the most visible and substantial damage, rendering the wharf mostly inaccessible. That section in disrepair is narrower than the rest of the wharf, and part of the strengthening project will be to add 16 feet in width — widening it from 20 feet to 36 feet, said Mozumder. Currently, those sections of the deck are supported by only three pilings — vertical posts that anchor the wharf into the ground below water. The repaired, fortified version will instead have six pilings, made of fiberglass instead of timber, adding extra resiliency to the structure.

Those changes were already being planned before the storms, but the winter deluge sped up the timeline, Mozumder said.

“I would say this winter’s events highlighted the issue that we were working towards,” said Mozumder. “We knew this area needed attention.”

But the deck isn’t the only thing that needs repairs. At the end of the wharf, Mozumder said, large swells knocked off much of the railing around the deck, and the boat launch area and stairways were also damaged. That all will be repaired as part of the nearly yearlong project heading toward its start.

Capitola Wharf was missing a large section on Thursday, January 5.
Capitola Wharf was missing a large section Jan. 5 after storms rolled through Santa Cruz County, causing ocean swells.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Although Mozumder said the city is shooting for a late summer 2024 completion time, it’s still a moving target. The El Niño climate pattern officially began in July, and the United Nations World Meteorological Organization has warned that extreme weather is possible for the better part of the next year. That could cause significant delays in completing the Capitola project.

“It’s hard to have an end date on a project with this many moving pieces, and there are still some unknown circumstances — winter predictions say we might have a really heavy winter,” said Mozumder. “We’ll have a better sense as we get through those months and see how production happens.”

The battered Capitola Wharf at sunset Jan. 5.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Mozumder added that part of the project will entail installing two new public bathrooms — and even more visitor-centric additions could come to the wharf soon, too.

Capitola city staff presented those proposed additions, dubbed the Capitola Wharf Enhancement Project, to the Capitola City Council on July 27. It is a volunteer-led project that includes a variety of features like a newly paved entry, a modified wharf arch, a fish-cleaning station, opportunities for public artwork, a scavenger-hunt activity to promote youth engagement and improvements to other amenities such as lighting and shade structures. The group is aiming to raise $250,000 in private donations to pay for it, according to this week’s city agenda.

“It’s a bit of a collaborative effort [between the community and the city],” said Mozumder.

The Capitola City Council is set to vote Thursday on an agreement with the enhancement project volunteer group, and is also slated to discuss other potential fundraising opportunities, including a possible benefit concert Oct. 14.

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