Pacifica Leaders Vote to Demolish Vacant Building Due to Coastal Erosion

In a unanimous vote Wednesday night, the Pacifica City Council agreed to pay a demolition team nearly $219,000 to tear down a building threatened by the city's crumbling coastline.

City leaders approved plans to tear down an apartment building at 310 Esplanade Ave. that is dangerously close to the cliff’s edge. City Manager Lorie Tinfow isn't happy about footing the bill but said she can't wait any longer for building owner Willard Tong to act.

"Our discretionary funds that are not already obligated are small," she said. "This is not simple for the city to do. If the implications of it falling to the beach weren't so dire - in other words, if the cost wasn't so much higher - we would not take action."

Work could begin as early as Monday, officials said.

Resident Dan Stegink told the council to seek grant funding to cover the cost.

"We hear a lot about the city applying for grants; we don't hear a lot about us getting money that can take the burden off Pacifica taxpayers and help us out," he said.

Tinfow said the city will take legal steps to be reimbursed by the property owner.

This building was deemed unsafe last year, but in light of recent storms, city officials fear it is now a public safety risk.

“It’s confirmed that the vacant building at 310 Esplanade poses a significant risk to public health and safety and needs to be demolished,” Tinfow told the council said last month. “Storm-driven waves have accelerated erosion of the adjacent bluffs presenting a clear danger to residents, and demolishing this structure is the only way to prevent it from crumbling to the beach below.”

Meanwhile, Pacifica crews spent Wednesday cleaning up after a massive oak tree branch fell during Tuesday night’s storm.

“I heard a crack and a boom and then I thought it was an earthquake,” said Denise Gernandt.

She is weary of parking beneath any other trees on the block, especially after her neighbor’s car was damaged when the branch came down.

About a mile north along the coast, Jack Skally said, “When the soft soil gives, that apartment building is going to go.”

All eyes are focused on the condemned apartment at 310 Esplanade that is teetering on the cliff’s edge. Residents are waiting for the council to approve emergency demolition plans.

“It’s been on everyone’s mind and we’ve been all worrying about it,” Tinfow said on Wednesday. “It does feel good to be able to take the steps to protect the public safety now."

Built in the 1960s, the building at 310 Esplanade contains hazardous materials that city officials say would present a significant threat to public health if there is another major storm, earthquake or other destabilizing event force that could cause portions of the building to fall.

On Jan. 25, 2016, the city of Pacifica said the apartments at 310 Esplanade Ave. were uninhabitable due to coastal erosion. Pacifica Chief Building Official Mike Cully “yellow-tagged” the apartments and several homes, meaning residents were allowed to access buildings only to remove their belongings. The city worked with the Pacifica Resource Center to provide assistance to residents as they transitioned to other housing. The property is currently vacant.

Since then, the city said the apartment building has been neglected by its owner, Millard Tong, and is at risk of crumbling over the eroding cliff and threatening public safety. Tong, who is the owner of 310 Esplanade and the previously demolished 320 Esplanade, filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and has largely neglected the buildings.

“We want to make it clear that that the property owner, Millard Tong, has been aware of the bluff’s deteriorating condition since at least 2010 and had ample opportunity to shore up the cliff beneath his property,” Tinfow said. “Because the building poses an imminent threat to public safety, the city of Pacifica is stepping in to demolish the structure.”

While the city moves forward with demolition plans, many neighbors are hoping this weekend’s storm doesn’t bring more erosion damage to the growing sinkhole a on the path to a popular beach entry.

Crews have been working to repair the sinkhole for weeks. But rain and waves continue to undo the work they’ve put in. On Thursday, when dry weather has been forecast, they will be pouring fresh cement to protect it from rain.

Pacifica's coastal erosion began in 2010, when major storms caused the city to evacuate and “red-tag” the 20-unit apartment building at 320 Esplanade and the 12-unit building at 330 Esplanade. Both buildings were left empty, teetering on the edge of a quickly eroding coastal bluff.

Four years later, Tinfow declared a state of local emergency because of the significant damage.

On Feb. 18, the adjacent, separately-owned 330 Esplanade was demolished by that building’s owner and on Mar. 12, the city shelled out $240,000 to demolish 320 Esplanade.

Pacifica has requested assistance from both the state and federal government to help cover the $3 million it will cost to repair damaged city structures. In October, the city reported that insurance and grant funds would cover the majority of the repair costs; repairs are currently underway.

The city is also slated to pay to demolish a house on 526 Esplanade Avenue. After recent storms, the property is tottering dangerously close to the cliff's edge. Tinfow said the owner is cooperating. In exchange for the rights to the land, the city will cover the cost of the demolition, which will likely be scheduled sometime in 2017.

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