Some Homeowners Decide to Stay in Yellow-Tagged Buildings Despite Cliffs Crumbling in Pacifica

Some Pacifica residents are digging in their heels and refusing to leave their homes although the cliff upon which their apartment complex stands is sliding into the ocean.

Failing bluffs along the city's shoreline led city officials to declare buildings at 310, 320 and 330 Esplanada Ave. uninhabitable Monday.

On Tuesday, Mike McHenry said he thought he had at least another year to enjoy his oceanfront view in Pacifica, but admitted that the recent storms have been a wake-up call. A 100-foot drop is just steps from his bedroom and he has watched his minimal yard crumble into the ocean in the past month.

"It feels like the ocean is in your bedroom," McHenry said. "It’s going to go and it’s going to go quick. Better that we’re not here when it happens."

McHenry, who relies on public assistance to pay for his $2,100-a-month unit, doesn't know where he'll end up. The Red Cross' temporary church shelter will only stay open for a few days, he said, adding that there is no word yet on whether the landlord will return his security deposit. 

"They gave us three nights in a place with no showers," McHenry said. "Then we are out on the streets. I just went from a place with a nice beautiful view to ... basically living in my car. How I'm going to keep my job? I have no idea."

The 310 Esplanade Ave. building was "yellow-tagged," meaning residents can go inside to get belongings out but can no longer stay there. The neighboring buildings at 320 and 330 Esplanade will need to be demolished, city officials said.

Significant storm damage in the city over the last several weeks led the city manager to declare a local state of emergency on Friday. The city council approved an emergency declaration at its meeting Monday night to free up federal and state funds.

The Pacifica Pier has sustained storm damage and is partially closed. Beach Boulevard remains closed near Santa Maria Avenue because of the failure of the seawall there, according to city officials.

The apartment buildings on Esplanade have been at risk of collapse for years. In January 2010, cliff erosion left the building at 330 Esplanade teetering on the edge of the cliff and residents were evacuated.

In April 2010, the apartments at 320 Esplanade were deemed unstable as well and the owners had to come up with a repair plan to keep the buildings from being demolished.

Pacifica resident Michelle Mackay, however, is resisting orders to evacuate the apartment for which she shells out $1,700 monthly.

"This is my home," she said. "A lot of us don't have a place to go anyways. The rents are too high. We are living paycheck to paycheck. What are we going to do?"

Mackay on Tuesday also questioned whether her apartment building is truly in danger of toppling off the cliff. She pointed to apartments at 320 and 330 Esplanade that the city evacuated several years ago over fears the dirt would give way.

They have "much more damage and have been standing there for five years," she said. "For five years, nothing has happened to them."

For their part, Pacifica police say they will work with displaced tenants to help them find new homes, but will eventually need to force everyone to leave. 

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