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East Bay Fault is 'tectonic time bomb,' more dangerous than San Andreas, new study finds

The San Andreas long has been the fault many Californians feared most, having unleashed the great 1906 earthquake that led to San Francisco’s destruction 112 years ago Wednesday.

But new research shows that a much less well-known fault, running under the heart of the East Bay, poses a greater danger.

A landmark report by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that at least 800 people could be killed and 18,000 more injured in a hypothetical magnitude 7 earthquake on the Hayward fault centered below Oakland.

Hundreds more could die from fire following an earthquake along the 52-mile fault. More than 400 fires could ignite, burning the equivalent of 52,000 single-family homes, and a lack of water for firefighters caused by old pipes shattering underground could make matters worse, said geophysicist Ken Hudnut, the USGS’ science adviser for risk reduction.

“This fault is what we sort of call a tectonic time bomb,” USGS earthquake geologist emeritus David Schwartz said. “It’s just waiting to go off.”

The Hayward fault is so dangerous because it runs through some of the most heavily populated parts of the Bay Area, spanning the length of the East Bay from the San Pablo Bay through Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward, Fremont and into Milpitas.

Out of the region’s population of 7 million, 2 million people live on top of the fault, Schwartz said, and that proximity brings potential peril. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was centered in the sparsely populated Santa Cruz Mountains. For all the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it was centered off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.

As the potential hazards of the fault have become clearer in recent years, officials have begun to take action. Old city halls in Hayward and Fremont have been abandoned because they lie on the fault. At Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley, seating was recently broken up and rebuilt so that the facility’s western half could move 6 feet northwest from the other side. In the hypothetical earthquake scenario, half of Memorial Stadium moves 2 feet northwest during the main earthquake, another foot over the next 24 hours, and yet another foot or so over the next few weeks or months, Hudnut said.

Despite taking such precautions, much of the region remains vulnerable, experts said.

The so-called HayWired scenario envisions a scale of disaster not seen in modern California history — 2,500 people needing rescue from collapsed buildings and 22,000 being trapped in elevators, Hudnut said. More than 400,000 people could be displaced from their homes, and some East Bay residents may lose access to clean running water for as long as six months.

The report found that a major East Bay quake also would outmatch California’s minimum building codes, which are designed only to keep most structures strong enough to enable people to safely evacuate. Even if all of the 2 million buildings in the greater San Francisco Bay Area complied with the modern-era building code, a HayWired scenario earthquake would cause 8,000 structures to collapse, 100,000 to be red-tagged — meaning they’re too damaged to enter — and 390,000 to be yellow-tagged, meaning occupancy is limited due to significant damage, said Keith Porter, a University of Colorado Boulder research professor who coordinated the HayWired report’s engineering section.

In some respects, the Haywired scenario would be at least 10 times as bad for the Bay Area as the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, despite the similar magnitude. The 1989 earthquake is blamed for about 60 deaths and produced $10 billion in damage; the HayWired scenario envisions $82 billion in property damage and direct business losses; fire following the earthquake could add $30 billion more.

A Hayward fault earthquake could trigger significant aftershocks on other faults for up to half a year after the main shock. In the HayWired scenario, a large aftershock comes nearly six months after the main quake — a magnitude 6.4 close to Cupertino, the home of Apple’s headquarters, followed in close succession by a magnitude 6.2 temblor near Palo Alto, a key city in Silicon Valley, and a 5.4 back in Oakland.

This simulation shows the shaking intensity of a magnitude 7 earthquake centered in Oakland on the Hayward fault. (USGS)

The Hayward fault is one of California’s fastest moving, and on average produces a major earthquake about once every 150 to 160 years, give or take 70 or 80 years. The last major earthquake on the Hayward fault, a magnitude 6.8, will see its 150th anniversary on Oct. 21.

“Even given the uncertainties, we are definitely closer to the next one than we are away from it,” Schwartz said recently, while showing off the giant crack in the floor of the Fremont Community Center — built on the Hayward fault — that hasslowly grown since it was built in 1962.

Strong shaking won’t affect the East Bay only, but also will be felt in San Francisco and places like the San Ramon and Livermore valleys. “You can’t hide — there’s really going to be very little places in the greater Bay Area that won’t be affected," he said.


The location of the Hayward fault is so well known to geologists because in certain parts of the East Bay, it creeps along, moving slowly between earthquakes. That releases some of the seismic strain accumulating on the fault as the Pacific plate slides northwest relative to the North American plate, but not the lion’s share.

Those close to the actual fault rupturing in the HayWired scenario may experience shaking strong enough to flip over a grand piano, seismologist Lucy Jones said. That’s why it’s a mistake for Californians to think that their home or business is fine if they survived the 1989 Loma Prieta or 1994 Northridge earthquake, neither of which was directly underneath a densely populated area with many old buildings.

“If you’re right on top of the earthquake, it’s really a lot worse,” Jones said. “What you had in Oakland in Loma Prieta is much less shaking than you’re going to get in this one.”

The HayWired report has been more than four years in the making, and federal scientists say they hope spelling out the science of what could happen in a plausible earthquake will help inspire people to get prepared.

With decades passing since the 1989 earthquake, “some amount of complacency is to be expected, and it’s the same in L.A. after Northridge,” Hudnut said. But “it’s not OK to forget. We have to remember,” he said.

Few people in the Bay Area know exactly where the fault is located, even in busy neighborhoods like Hayward’s downtown.

On a recent weekday morning, two women who said they routinely bring their children to a park next to the abandoned Hayward City Hall on Main Street had no idea that it had been closed because it was slowly being ripped apart by the Hayward fault. There are no markings showing the path of the fault, and kids routinely run up to touch the building.

“If it crumbles, that’s really scary,” said Melanie Koloto, there with her 6- and 8-year-old sons. “I think they should already have it blocked off, or try to get it knocked down.”

“At least have some kind of public safety meeting — a town hall or something — to say this is where it is, and this is the danger that comes along with sitting right on top of it,” said Katie Crystal, 32.

Signs of the fault are evident, according to Schwartz, who recently took a reporter on a tour. A bent curb and a bent building wall can be seen on the northeast side of Mission Boulevard between A and B streets. In the parking lot behind Favorite Indian Restaurant, a long bump in the asphalt shows the boundary line of the Hayward fault as the western side creeps to the northwest, and the other creeps to the southeast.

Schwartz said the fault continues in a northwesterly direction, which would point it through the property to the northwest — the St. Regis Retirement Center. The longtime owner, Gene Rapp, 80, said he was unconvinced, adding that he thinks a trench needs to be dug and studied for there to be a definitive conclusion.

“I don’t think a bump in the parking lot or a crack in the sidewalk means anything,” Rapp said in a telephone interview. “There’s only one way to know for sure. You have to dig a ditch. You can’t just look at broken concrete and jump to a conclusion. It might be a wild ass guess.”

Article credit: ron.lin@latimes.com

When the sea rises, Santa Cruz’s wastewater treatment plant will face big questions

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 06/10/17, 8:00 PM PDT

The Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility, which disposes the sewage of Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Capitola, Soquel, Aptos, Watsonville and Scotts Valley, is stuck in a difficult spot.

It sits near the coast next to Neary Lagoon, on the floodplain of the San Lorenzo River, at one of the lowest elevations in Santa Cruz.

The plant is also built on a high aquifer — dig down 3 to 5 feet at several spots, and you’re likely to hit fresh water.

The award-winning plant is not in any immediate danger from flooding or saturated soil, as it’s designed to handle today’s wettest conditions.

But imagine it’s the year 2100, and the sea level has rises 2 to 4 feet, as scientists predict, or even as high as 10 feet, if Antarctic ice sheets collapse and melt faster.

What happens to the plant then?

Plant operators must guard against two natural hazards: flooding from Neary Lagoon and high groundwater levels, which push against the underground tanks and cause cracking.

From his office at the plant, Operations Manager Mike Sanders can control the security camera overlooking what he calls the “King Kong gates.”

“If water came in from Neary Lagoon, it would come in there, at that access point, because that’s the lowest point,” said Sanders, zooming his camera in on two massive, thick wooden doors in a concrete wall.

Next to the gate is a stack of 12-foot boards, which fit into slots along the entryway and are designed to hold back floodwater.

Sanders said in his 27 years at the plant, lagoon floodwaters have never breached the door. His staff has only slotted the “King Kong” boards once, during a 2011 tsunami caused by an earthquake in Japan.

The other natural hazard, high groundwater levels, the plant deals with on a regular basis. Every year, the city’s public works department spends $30,000 to epoxy cracks in the plant’s pair of 1.3-million gallon underground tanks, caused by groundwater pushing up against the floor.

“That’s a constant maintenance,” said Mark Dettle, Santa Cruz’s public works director.

But, he added, “We’re not worried about the tanks at all.”

For one, the tanks are built on iron columns that extend 90 feet into the earth. These columns keep the tanks seated in the ground, preventing them popping up like cork, from the push of the groundwater underneath.

Secondly, the tanks have release valves on their floors, and when the groundwater gets high enough, it seeps up into the tank, relieving pressure.

At current sea levels, the ocean already creeps into the San Lorenzo River floodplain.

In summer, when the river’s flow is weak and its mouth isn’t blocked by sand, ocean water flows upstream. Sometimes, the ocean can reach past the Laurel Street, Soquel Avenue and Water Street bridges, all the way to Highway 1, said UC Santa Cruz professor Gary Griggs, who co-authored the 2011 Santa Cruz Climate Change Vulnerability Report.

Adding significant sea level rise to that picture would not only push the ocean deeper into the floodplain, but also raise groundwater levels, said Griggs, eventually pushing water under the downtown buildings and the sewage treatment plant.

Sea levels are rising. We can slow it, but we can’t stop it, said Griggs, who also co-authored an April report on California’s sea level rise, at the governor’s and other state agencies’ request.

“If we do nothing, we’re just going further down the wrong road. That sea level’s going to be higher because the ocean’s going to warm more,” Griggs said.

Griggs said the Santa Cruz treatment plant is probably safe until the year 2050, until sea level rise is forecasted to accelerate.

“I think we’re fine for at least a couple of decades, 20 years, 25 years. And then the uncertainty is how fast sea level’s going to rise, and right now, our estimates for midcentury is a foot or two feet. They could probably still handle that. So I don’t think there’s any immediate need, unless things start to break up really fast in Antarctica, but the probability’s not really high.”

With the looming threats of sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion, coastal cities across the state are all facing the same questions: how to protect infrastructure and when to begin managed retreat from the ocean.

The city of Santa Cruz is in the midst of preparing its Climate Adaptation Plan update, which is due in August.

In the next few months, Santa Cruz City Council and its advisory bodies will hear about the update, which includes maps modeling how rising tides, coastal storms and erosion will affect the city in 2030, 2060 and 2100.

The current plan, which was written in 2011, listed “upgrading/relocating city buildings and infrastructure,” including the treatment plant, as a top priority.

The plan doesn’t specify whether relocation is the endgame for the treatment plant. The update also doesn’t address relocation for the plant, said Tiffany Wise-West, the city’s sustainability and climate action coordinator overseeing the update.

It’s time for the city to start having those discussions about long-term plans, said Wise-West.

“It’s the cost benefit (analysis) and high-level conversations internally and with regulatory agencies like the Coastal Commission that will ultimately reveal what we’re going to do in terms of relocation, managed retreat and upgrades,” Wise-West said.

In cities across the world, wastewater treatment plants are placed at the lowest elevation points. That’s good design, to let gravity pull sewage through the pipes, said Sanders, the Santa Cruz operations manager.

But what that means is, all along the coasts, cities have placed their treatment plants close to shore, which is typically the lowest spot. In the years to come, many treatment plants will face the same issues as Santa Cruz’.

“They’re going to have to do something. This place is going to be underwater, and they’re going to have to relocate. Man, a lot of people are going to have to relocate” Sanders said.

Helicopter used to forecast saltwater intrusion in Santa Cruz County

By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 05/22/17, 6:43 PM PDT


Emerging from the heavy fog with a staccato roar, a low-flying helicopter lowered a nearly 3,700-square-foot fiberglass frame onto Seascape Park Monday morning.

Nearby resident Veronica Joyce-Gallart, out for a walk at the time, was surprised.

“I wasn’t sure what it was from a distance,” Joyce-Gallart said. “My first thought was, what on earth is that? I had no clue.”

As part of a Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency survey to forecast saltwater intrusion, the helicopter carried electromagnetic sensors to map freshwater aquifers under the sea floor. Based on how the water conducts electrical pulses generated by the frame, analysis will be able to show an outline of how far ocean saltwater has crept landward.

The least promising news for local groundwater-dependent utilities would be if no freshwater could be detected spreading out beneath the ocean. In that case, saltwater likely has snuck into underground drinking water supplies.

This so-called saltwater intrusion occurs when underground aquifers have been overdrafted, and the pressure gradient pushes seawater inland and underground. Saltwater intrusion is a problem in the southern part of Santa Cruz County and nearby Monterey County, and is slowly contaminating the drinking supply,

The helicopter is scheduled to take numerous passes up and down coastal waters, from the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor south to Seascape Resort and out as far as a mile offshore. The helicopter is not approved to pass over homes for its low-flying flights, and so will only dip inland over select locations, officials said Monday.

Soquel Creek Water District General Manager Ron Duncan said the work is akin to using a 1,300-pound water-seeking metal detector.

The $100,000 project is a leap forward for the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency, which has gathered similar data along the beach with the help of Stanford researchers. Data collected will take about three months to compile into a final report and will be folded into a years-long groundwater modeling project. Santa Cruz County Water Resources Planner Sierra Ryan described the latest effort as a “key piece of the puzzle” to ongoing efforts to chart the impacts of water overuse in the area.

“Nobody’s ever done this in California before. We’ve never had the technology,” Ryan said. “It has to be able to penetrate through the ocean. What we’ve done similar to this is we drill wells, but we’re not drilling monitoring wells offshore.”

Soquel Creek Water District, the city of Santa Cruz, the county of Santa Cruz, Central Water District and several private well owner representatives make up the Mid-County Groundwater Agency. Per state law, the group is building a 20-year plan to balance use of the underground Purisima Aquifer Formation and the Aromas Red Sands Aquifer supplies so that demand does not exceed availability of the drinking water supply.

Though the effort, run by Denmark-based contractors SkyTEM and Ramboll, was set to begin Monday, persistent low fog delayed the effort by at least a day. Technicians were conducting similar survey work nearby last week for Marina Coast Water District’s Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, but flew primarily over land, rather than water, officials said. It heads next to Wyoming.

California cracks down on last beachfront sand-mining operation in U.S.

The CEMEX Lapis Sand Plant in Marina on August 21, 2013.  (Vern Fisher/Monterey County Herald)

Posted: 05/16/17, 9:01 AM PDT By Paul Rogers, progers@bayareanewsgroup.com

Moving in on the last coastal sand mining operation in the United States, California regulators are ordering a Mexican-based company to obtain permits and pay state royalties for its Monterey County plant or shut down — amid a chorus of complaints that its causing significant erosion of beaches along Monterey Bay.

The facility, known as the CEMEX Lapis plant, has been in operation since 1906 and is located between Marina and Moss Landing. With smokestacks, conveyor belts and dredges, it produces an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 cubic yards of sand a year — enough to fill up to 30,000 dump trucks — that sells for about $4.70 a bag for a variety of uses from sand blasting to golf course sand traps to lining utility trenches.

On Tuesday, the State Lands Commission, an agency that regulates offshore oil drilling in state waters and submerged tidal lands, sent a letter to CEMEX officials demanding that the company obtain a lease from the commission and begin paying royalties, or shut down.

“Stealing public resources for private profit without a lease is a violation of the state constitution,” said Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, chairman of the State Lands Commission. “This mine is a relic of an era that California and the nation rejected a long time ago, and it is past time that CEMEX engage in a dialogue on the future of operations.”

Walker Robinson, a CEMEX spokesman at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Houston, did not comment.

Last year, CEMEX spokeswoman Megan Lawrence told this newspaper that the company operates the mine in an “environmentally responsible manner and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.” The mine is also “a much needed resource for many local projects including municipalities, infrastructure and recreational facilities,” she said.

Scientists and environmental groups, however, say the facility is causing significant erosion of beaches along Monterey Bay, from Marina south to Del Monte Beach in Monterey.

“If you take that much sand directly off the beach every year, the waves keep breaking,” said Gary Griggs, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC-Santa Cruz. “The southern end of the bay is eroding at a much faster rate than it would naturally.”

Griggs, who has studied coastal erosion for more than 40 years, said that areas south of the sand plant, along the site of the former Fort Ord military base and down to the Monterey Tides Hotel in Monterey, are eroding at roughly 3 to 6 feet a year. Stilwell Hall, the former World War II-era officer’s club at Fort Ord, had to be demolished in 2003 when cliff erosion threatened to send it crashing into the ocean.

Without the sand plant, Griggs said, the coast in that area would erode by roughly 1-2 feet a year, if not less.

In decades past, there were six major sand mining plants along the shores of Monterey Bay. They used a technique called “drag lining,” in which they scraped and dragged sand with massive metal scoops from the surf line. The companies were closed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1986 and 1990, however, after the agency enforced prohibitions on sand mining below the tide line.

The Lapis mine remained open, however, because it had shifted to a method in which it pumps sand from a lagoon on the back of the beach in an area where it owns several hundred acres. After the California Coastal Commission last year said it will require permits, a case that is still open, CEMEX argued that it predates the 1976 Coastal Act.

The State Lands Commission noted in its letter this week to CEMEX that the company’s predecessor, Pacific Cement and Aggregates, had a 5-year state lease and paid royalties. It said the sand in the lagoon comes in with the tides, so is subject to its jurisdiction. If CEMEX does not apply for a lease, conduct environmental studies and pay royalties, it could face civil liability and damages, the commission said.

Santa Cruz County’s air quality receives ‘F,’ San Lorenzo Valley’s wintertime wood smoke to blame

Smoke and steam rise from houses on Laurent Street on Santa Cruz’s Westside as fireplaces and wood stoves are fired up to take out the morning chill on Nov. 26, 2012. On Wednesday, the American Lung Association released a report giving Santa Cruz County air quality an ‘F’ grade, due to the San Lorenzo Valley’s wintertime wood smoke. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel Posted: 04/20/17, 6:20 PM PDT

Santa Cruz County’s air quality has received a failing grade from the American Lung Association, due to wintertime wood smoke pollution in the San Lorenzo Valley.

The American Lung Association report, released Wednesday, listed the county as the 20th most polluted in the country by particle pollution. The report was based on data from 2013 to 2015.

Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, is microscopic dust and liquid droplets released by burning of wood and fossil fuels, said Will Barrett, the American Lung Association in California’s senior policy analyst. Santa Cruz County’s particle pollution is primarily caused by wood-burning stoves in the San Lorenzo Valley in the winter, he said.

“When you breathe (the particles) in, they’ll bypass the body’s natural defenses and get deep into your lungs, so much that they’ll cross into your bloodstream,” said Barrett.

Particle pollution increases risk of heart disease, lung cancer, asthma attacks, according to the lung association.

Santa Cruz County has more than double the rate of pediatric asthma, compared to the state average.

The most recent available data from 2014 shows 27 percent of Santa Cruz County children aged 5 to 17 had an asthma attack within the previous year, compared to the state average of 12 percent, according to California Breathing, an asthma nonprofit.

“The state estimates 7,000 premature deaths every year in California due to particle pollution, so they’re real numbers,” said Barrett. “Particle pollution is an extremely problematic situation that we have to get rid of.”

Richard Stedman, executive director of the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District, said he thought the lung association’s report’s “F” grade for Santa Cruz County wasn’t accurate.

“The San Lorenzo Valley should not be a surrogate for the entire county,” said Stedman. “We see along the coast some of the cleanest air in the country in Santa Cruz. I think it’s a little bit unfair.”

The San Lorenzo Valley’s wintertime air pollution has been improved in the past four years. That’s mostly due to the past two stormy winters, which helped clear the pollution from the valley, said Stedman. Last winter, the San Lorenzo Valley only had two unhealthy air days, compared to four years ago, when it had dozens, exceeding the healthy threshold by “huge” amounts, Stedman said.

“It was like the air quality in Beijing,” Stedman said.

The district’s main solution is offering residents financial incentives to trade their wood stoves for cleaner-burning ones. In the past few years, the district’s program has disbursed $70,000 to San Lorenzo Valley residents, resulting in “a couple hundred” cleaner-burning stoves, Stedman said.

But the incentive program has its obstacles.

Some people just don’t want to change their stoves, said Stedman, whether it’s because they don’t trust government funding, or because they think wood burning is a “god-given right,” a tradition they’d never give up. Some people would rather burn wood because they have plenty of it on their properties, and don’t have to pay for it, he said.

Stedman said he thinks the biggest potential for impact would be requiring all homes on the market to update their wood-burning stoves at the point of sale. The district attempted to create that rule last year, but the Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS fought back and killed the program, he said.

“Last we checked, there were about 100 homes (in the San Lorenzo Valley) that changed hands during that year. That’s a lot of stoves and we would have really liked to have been involved,” Stedman said.

Easy ways to reduce wood smoke

• Burning dry instead of wet wood.

• Extinguishing fires at night instead of dampening them down overnight, which is inefficient and increases smoke.


Tunnels in works to protect wildlife

By Lisa M. Krieger, Bay Area News Group

Two blacktail deer investigate a culvert beneath a roadway in March of 2015.

Two blacktail deer investigate a culvert beneath a roadway in March of 2015. Tanya Diamond — Pathways for Wildlife

Sonoma State University graduate student Tracy Bain checks netting that leads into a Tiger Salamander tunnel crossing in southwest Sonoma County near Petaluma. Bain’s thesis was to study whether or not the salamanders were using the tunnels to migrate on rainy nights. Bain also set up infrared cameras to capture images of salamanders using the tubes.

By Lisa M. Krieger, Bay Area News Group: 10/15/16, 3:47 PM PDT

Sonoma State University graduate student Tracy Bain checks netting that leads into a Tiger Salamander tunnel crossing in southwest Sonoma County near Petaluma. Bain’s thesis was to study whether or not the salamanders were using the tunnels to migrate on rainy nights. Bain also set up infrared cameras to capture images of salamanders using the tubes. Kent Porter — Press Democrat
As cars whiz by below, Wyoming’s pronghorn antelope migrate safely across bridges built just for them. Underneath the Florida Everglades’ “Alligator Alley,” tunnels offer a low-lying route for Florida’s elegant and endangered panthers.
And by the end of this decade, mountain lions, deer and other wildlife that live in the Santa Cruz Mountains will have their own protected passage across notoriously dangerous Highway 17 when Northern California’s first major “wildlife corridors” are constructed to cut down on road kills and enhance driver safety.
Two new tunnels under the serpentine highway — one near Lexington Reservoir in Santa Clara County, the other near Laurel Curve in Santa Cruz County — will provide much-needed links in an area where home construction and asphalt have fragmented once-continuous habitat, connecting two major wilderness areas where animals roam for food, mates and new territory.
The recently unveiled construction projects — which will cost up to $32 million and be funded by a grab bag of private, county and state sources — are among the most ambitious in an expanding national effort to reduce roadside carnage.
“We’ve identified the huge hot spots” of wildlife routes, said wildlife ecologist Tanya Diamond, of Los Gatos-based Pathways for Wildlife, who helped initiate the project research after witnessing the death of a cougar on southbound 17 seven years ago.
“There are so many wonderful preserves on either side of Highway 17, but it’s heartbreaking to see animals unable to connect,” she said.
Every year, about 200 Americans are killed in as many as 2 million collisions between wildlife and vehicles, according to the Western Transportation Institute. And the numbers are expected to increase as development expands into rural regions. In the past two decades, by one estimate, almost 40 percent of the new homes built in the West are in the “urban wildland interface.”
Steve Mandel, of Soquel, still aches over his fatal collision with a young male mountain lion on Highway 17 on Dec. 23. Mandel, a management consultant and wildlife photographer who volunteers his work to the Land Trust of Santa Cruz, was driving home from San Jose with his wife and two sons in the car. It was dusk, and they were approaching the summit.
“I saw it sitting on the side of the road. In a split second, it dashed out and was immediately hit by the car on my right,” he recalled.
The puma was flung forward, right in front of Mandel’s car. “All I could do was hold the steering wheel steady and run over it,” he said. “I had to keep going. If I veered to the right, I’d hit the other car; if I veered to the left, I’d hit the center divide. If I hit the brakes, there would have been an accident behind me.”
“We were traumatized,” said Mandel, who now works to help raise funds for the Laurel Curve tunnel. “To hit this beautiful animal on 17 was so upsetting.”
The goal of the Santa Cruz Mountains projects is not just to save lives. Advocates envision a future landscape in which large populations of wildlife can thrive, avoiding the genetic perils of isolated clusters trapped in shrinking and fragmented habitats.
Caltrans has been involved in other — albeit smaller — projects in other regions of California.
Endangered California tiger salamanders wend their way through a series of three small tunnels, constructed with 35-foot steel pipes, under Stony Point Road in the Sonoma County town of Cotati. They’re also helped near Lompoc, where Caltrans has installed several 7-foot diameter pipes, each with a dirt path, under Highway 246. In Tahoe National Park, mule deer travel through a new pair of undercrossings, completed last spring, along a busy 25-mile stretch of state Highway 89, from Sierraville to Truckee.
The world’s largest wildlife corridor is under consideration in Southern California, where a bridge may traverse the eight-lane Highway 101 in Agoura Hills, connecting the Santa Monica Mountains and the Santa Susana Mountains.
A key part of the Highway 17 projects was identifying exactly where animals cross. Diamond and her team analyzed data from three sources: roadkill, collected by Caltrans; radio signals, from collars worn by pumas; and motion-detecting cameras, along existing culverts. Then they overlaid the crossing points onto highway maps to select the ideal spots for constructing the tunnels.
The highway presents unique challenges to excavation. It is a busy, winding and narrow state road with steep topography and unstable geology, traversing two different counties.
The tunnels must be wide enough to be inviting to animals. The Santa Clara County tunnel could measure up to 400 feet long; the Santa Cruz County tunnel, where the route is a bit narrower, could be as short as 120 feet. They’ll require wire fencing to funnel wildlife into safe passage.
A multitude of agencies are involved with the projects, from Caltrans and MidPeninsula Open Space District to the Land Trust of Santa Cruz. Full funding is already in place for the Santa Clara County project. Funding is not yet secured for the Santa Cruz County project, which has been dependent on private donations, but it could get a boost if Measure D, a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects in Santa Cruz County, passes on Nov. 8. Both projects are expected to be completed by 2020.
As Bay Area traffic grows, crossing Highway 17 has become increasingly difficult. Up to 6,000 vehicles an hour travel the route, making it impenetrable most of the time, even to the fastest cougars. More than 350 animals of 82 different species, including 13 pumas, have been hit on Highway 17 in the last eight years, according to Caltrans data.
Cameras show that animals frequently approach the entrances to the highway’s dark and narrow culverts but then turn away, choosing instead to climb up the bank and cross the highway.
Autumn is peak season for collisions with deer because it is mating season, when they are distracted and on the move. The end of Daylight Saving Time on Nov. 6 will make things worse because more commuters are on the roads at dusk, when animals are active but often find it difficult to see.
Many mountain commuters, who say they’d welcome the tunnels, tell tales of harrowing near-misses.
Cherri Nelson, of Los Gatos, witnessed a fellow driver slow down just in time to spare a large buck, with antlers. The animal jumped two cement dividers and crossed both north and southbound lanes of Highway 17.
“My heart was pounding, for the deer and the driver,” she said. “Had it been just as commute or beach traffic times were beginning, there would have been a horrific accident.”
Mandel, the trauma of his encounter with a mountain lion still fresh in his mind, hopes the planned tunnels will spare others the same tragedy.
“The wildlife crossings will go a long way to solve this problem,” he said. “The death of the mountain lion wasn’t in vain.”
“They’ll help people, and they’ll help animals.”

Rural Santa Cruz County residents warned of wildfire

By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 07/22/16, 4:34 PM PDT

Create: A 30-foot ‘lean, clean and green’ area should be maintained around homes with 100 feet of defensible space around it.
Clear: Vegetation should be cleared around address markers, water standpipes and other water sources on roads.
Map: Plan a wildfire exit route and keep a checklist of items to pack.
Details: Visit Readyforwildfire.org.
Source: Cal Fire

FELTON >> Cal Fire leaders in Santa Cruz County say they want rural residents to help prevent wildfires by clearing defensible space around their homes, but they want people to be wary of starting fires with landscaping equipment.
Rich Sampson, division chief of Cal Fire’s Santa Cruz-San Mateo Unit, said three small wildfires were started in the past two weeks by residents on riding lawn mowers who cut dry grass on rocky soil in the late afternoon. Sparks started the blazes, Sampson said.
“While the department is supportive of landowners maintaining defensible space, the time for equipment operations is during the cooler part of the day,” Sampson said. He advised residents and landscaping crews to mow before 10 a.m. and “preferably during wet or foggy conditions with lower temperatures and higher relative humidity.”
Cal Fire leaders said that because Santa Cruz County had an “average” winter of rain after five years of drought, there is more vegetation prone to wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Friday afternoon, Cal firefighters in Big Sur battled a wildfire that grew to more than 1,100 acres about 5 miles south of Garrapata State Park. Firefighters have not yet said what started that blaze Friday morning.
Another wildfire in Wilder Ranch State Park burned 1.6 acres on Wednesday.
Dry conditions this summer prompted Cal Fire to ban backyard burns June 27 in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.
“As conditions across California are drying out further we must take every step to prevent new wildfires from sparking,” said Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott. “Residents must ensure they have defensible space by removing dead trees and overgrown vegetation from around their homes, but do so safely.”
Firefighters advised residents to clear all dead and dying leaves and other vegetation 100 feet from buildings. Residents also should consider plants that resist ignition such as rockrose, ice plant and aloe, according to Cal Fire. Less flammable shrubs include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant. Maple, poplar and cherry trees also are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers, according to Cal Fire.
Wood chipping, rather than burning, also is a good way to get rid of dead branches and wood debris. The Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County has a wood chipping program where residents can get technical support and apply for reimbursements for chipping services, Sampson said.

The Resource Conservation District’s website is at Rcdsantacruz.org.
More information about preparing for wildfire is on Cal Fire’s ReadyForWildfire.org.
Create: A 30-foot ‘lean, clean and green’ area should be maintained around homes with 100 feet of defensible space around it.
Clear: Vegetation should be cleared around address markers, water standpipes and other water sources on roads.
Map: Plan a wildfire exit route and keep a checklist of items to pack.
More information: Visit Readyforwildfire.org.
Source: Cal Fire


New maps of Monterey Bay sea floor reveal low sand, new fault lines

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 04/08/16
Work crews fortify the cliffside foundation supporting a row of condominiums overlooking Sand Dollar Beach where exposed bedrock offshore may signal more erosion in store for the shoreline.  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Work crews fortify the cliffside foundation supporting a row of condominiums overlooking Sand Dollar Beach where exposed bedrock offshore may signal more erosion in store for the shoreline. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Last winter’s storm surf took out the staircase leading from Sand Dollar Beach to Manresa Uplands Campground.  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Last winter’s storm surf took out the staircase leading from Sand Dollar Beach to Manresa Uplands Campground. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ >> On a map of the Monterey Bay sea floor, U.S. Geological Survey researcher Sam Johnson pointed to something offshore of Manresa and Sunset state beaches.
It looked like tiny scratches on a black chalkboard.
“See those linear white dots?” Johnson said. “That’s really interesting. We haven’t seen those anywhere off the California coast.”
The lines, called “scour depressions,” are windows of exposed bedrock, signaling very little sand and mud in the area due to storms.
What that means is the Santa Cruz region may be more susceptible to erosion than previously thought due to a short supply of offshore sand to replenish the beaches. Wide beaches protect the cliffs from powerful waves.
On his computer, Johnson scanned through dozens of high-resolution maps of the Monterey Bay. These maps, which are publicly available online, are part of a series recently released by the U.S. Geological Survey, showing a detailed picture of California’s sea floor.
For the first time, researchers have a comprehensive view of the sea floor’s depth, its texture and composition, what lays beneath it, and the fault lines and habitats it contains.

The disciplined, statewide approach is new. Before, scientists had a patchwork of maps, only detailed in some places.
Scientists surveyed the coastline with instruments that sent sound waves to the bottom. They also rigged giant metal sleds with arrays of cameras, to get video and still photos, in a process called “groundtruthing.” More than 340 miles were videotaped and 87,000 photos were taken, all available online.
The $35 million project began eight years ago and is still ongoing. Maps of about 30 percent of state waters have been released, and the rest are expected within the next decade, said Johnson.
It’s the result of a collaboration between dozens of researchers, mainly from the Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state’s Ocean Protection Council and Cal State Monterey Bay.
Each entity had its own goals for mapping, said Johnson, who helped lead the project. The Geological Survey wanted a baseline for measuring changes due to climate change and sea level rise, and to predict hazards such as flooding, earthquakes and tsunamis. NOAA wanted to update its nautical charts. The state wanted to designate and monitor its marine protected areas, and CSUMB wanted to further research and train students, he said.
“People had different reasons for collecting these data but everybody wanted them,” Johnson said. “That was the cool thing about this project. It brought a bunch of different interests together that could each leverage their own institutions and contribute to the greater whole.”
Another surprise about the local sea floor: It has more fault lines than anticipated, said Johnson. The Monterey Bay lies between the San Andreas Fault to the east and the San Gregorio Fault to the west. Between the two larger lines, the maps revealed a fabric of shorter faults, some previously unknown, Johnson said.
Unlike the San Andreas and San Gregorio faults, these smaller lines result in “up-and-down” movement, instead of lateral movement and folding, Johnson said.
“So it’s more like keystones,” Johnson said. “If you pulled apart some blocks, then some would fall down deeper than the others. We now know that there are sources of earthquakes out there that we didn’t know of before.”

Santa Cruz’s West Cliff Drive sinkhole expands as work continues to shore up cliff
Repairs continue on the sinkhole that developed in the West Cliff bike path between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue.  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Repairs continue on the sinkhole that developed in the West Cliff bike path between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel) (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 03/31/16, 5:06 PM PDT |

A large boulder is place inside a West Cliff Drive sinkhole in early March to armor the adjacent retaining wall. (Santa Cruz Public Works -- Contributed)

A large boulder is place inside a West Cliff Drive sinkhole in early March to armor the adjacent retaining wall. (Santa Cruz Public Works -- Contributed)

SANTA CRUZ >> What began in January as one of two West Cliff Drive weather damaged sidewalk areas has expanded into a fenced-off 20-foot-deep hole east of Woodrow Avenue.

The sinkhole opened up after winter storms pushed heavy swells against the bluff, eroding the sandstone wall and protective boulders. The city project to repair the 34-by-20-foot hole has involved intermittent rerouting of West Cliff traffic around the site as it entered its second phase last week. Work is expected to continue for another two weeks, including final paving.
“We have had to close the roadway surrounding the project a handful of times, like today, however, the detour is an easy one and we are not aware of complaints from neighbors,” city Public Works Department spokeswoman Janice Bisgaard said Thursday.
Sinkholes are not a new occurrence for the bedrock bluff along West Cliff Drive, which is particularly vulnerable to the natural process of erosion and is why there are so many caves in this area, Bisgaard said. West Cliff has eroded at an estimated rate of up 6 inches a year in recent decades, according to Gary Griggs, a coastal geologist and director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz.
The area’s last major sinkhole, about 150 feet east of the current one and deep enough to fit a small car, opened in 2014 next to the bike path and revealed a cave to the ocean, as it has done about every 10 years in the same location.
In the process of plugging the latest sinkhole, Salinas-based contractor Don Chapin Co. needed to shore up the retaining wall to protect the area from further damage, said Bisgaard. In the project’s first phase, coming with about a $100,000 price tag, some 3 to 5 tons of boulders were brought in to act as armor for the exterior cliff, she said.
Last week, construction work began on the second phase, concentrating on ensuring the long-term viability of the area. Josh Spangrud, a city senior civil engineer, said the work involves creating a retaining wall separate from the existing structure to plug the sinkhole’s bottom. The void will be filled with 90 cubic yards of concrete and an unknown amount of drainage rock to prevent further erosion. The new infill will reinforce existing underground retaining wall and other supports, he said.
The total cost of phase two, for which the city hired Santa Cruz’s Mesiti-Miller Engineering and Watsonville-based geotechnical engineers Haro Kasunich & Associates, is not yet clear, said Bisgaard. The third phase will place more rock in the cove around the outside of the area for greater stabilization.


Maps show Santa Cruz areas vulnerable to floods during El Nino storms

FEMA identified areas of Santa Cruz that could be flooded with a 100-year storm. (City of Santa Cruz -- Contributed)

FEMA identified areas of Santa Cruz that could be flooded with a 100-year storm. (City of Santa Cruz -- Contributed)
By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 10/16/15, 3:26 PM PDT |


A map of Santa Cruz shows areas that could be flooded with a 100-year storm. The map is based on elevation and waterways. (City of Santa Cruz -- Contributed)


Emergency Prep Fair

What: City leaders will lead an emergency preparedness fair to help residents get ready for severe winter storms predicted with El Nino. The event will include explanations of flood maps, a sandbag demonstration, information from the American Red Cross and information about how to prepare homes for rain and potential flooding.
When: Noon to 4 p.m., Nov. 21.
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St.
Cost: Free.
Source: City of Santa Cruz.

SANTA CRUZ >> Big storms and long periods of rain from a predicted El Nino winter in Santa Cruz could bring floods to low areas near waterways, city leaders said this week.
Two maps made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, show the potential of a 100-year storm. If water were to breach the San Lorenzo River levee, it would flood downtown Santa Cruz from Pacific Avenue past Chestnut Street to the Santa Cruz High School playing fields, according to the maps.
Homes also are vulnerable to floods on the lower part of Arana Gulch, north of the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, parts of Branciforte and Carbonera creeks and the lower part of Moore Creek on the far Westside, city leaders said. Other vulnerable areas include the Beach Flats and Lower Ocean neighborhoods, as well as homes and businesses between River Street and the San Lorenzo River.
The chances of a San Lorenzo River levee breach are not great, said Santa Cruz Public Works Director Mark Dettle. But he noted that it’s been at least a decade since sediment has been dredged from a collection spot south of the Highway 1 bridge. The river’s flow slows there and sand tends to collect, raising the water level during heavy rain.

“It’s a concern if we get these extreme events,” Dettle said.
City leaders have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers for 15 years to redesign that area of the river levee and so less sediment collects. More work needs to be done before the levee is certified by the corps’ safety program, Dettle said.

Because the Highway 1 bridge has a center support and most other bridges over it do not, big logs and other debris also tend to collect when the river is flowing during storms. Logs aren’t as big of a problem because they can be plucked out relatively easily, Dettle said.

Dettle said it wouldn’t hurt for residents in low areas near Arana Gulch and Branciforte, Carbonera and Moore creeks to prepare for potential floods this winter by gathering sandbags.

There is also potential for other streets in the city to flood if storm drains become clogged with leaves or other debris.

“There is localized flooding when we get intense storms because the street becomes the (water) storage until the system catches up,” said Dettle.

“One thing people can do to help us: If they have a catch basin in front of their house, keep that clean.”
This month, Public Works spokeswoman Janice Bisgaard published several web pages and downloadable brochures about how residents can prepare for big storms, power outages and floods. It includes information from what to put in an emergency kit to preparing a communication plan with family and friends.
City leaders also plan to have an emergency preparedness fair for residents on Nov. 21 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. It will include explanations of flood maps, a sandbag demonstration and information from the American Red Cross.

For more detailed flood maps, visit https://msc.fema.gov/portal/ and www.r9map.org/Docs/Santa-Cruz_Risk-MAP-Newsletter_Data-Acquisition_FINAL.pdf

What: City leaders will lead an emergency preparedness fair to help residents get ready for severe winter storms predicted with El Nino. The event will include explanations of flood maps, a sandbag demonstration, information from the American Red Cross and information about how to prepare homes for rain and potential flooding.
When: Noon to 4 p.m., Nov. 21.
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St.
Cost: Free.
Source: City of Santa Cruz


Retrofitting pre-1979 homes can prevent much costlier quake damage

Napa quake
A house in Fillmore sits askew six months after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, having slid off its foundation. (Joe Pugliese / Los Angeles Times)

By Rong-Gong Lin II contact the reporter

Even single-family homes aren't always protected against earthquakes.Single-family homes with wooden frames and concrete foundations are vulnerable in quakes, but can be fortified.
Over the last few years, much of the focus on earthquake safety has been on concrete buildings and wooden apartments with weak first stories, which can collapse in a major earthquake. But single-family homes also pose risks. And there are steps homeowners can take to make their dwelling more structurally secure.

What's the most significant risk to single-family homes?
A big problem involves homes built before 1979 with a handful of steps above the ground, where in between the floor of the house and the concrete slab foundation is a crawl space a few feet tall.
The heavy house rests atop a flimsy wood-frame perimeter that is not bolted to the concrete foundation.
So when an earthquake hits and the concrete foundation moves, the wooden part of the house snaps off — possibly falling into the backyard or through the neighbor's fence.
"In an earthquake, what happens is that the house can either topple or slide off of the foundation," said Janiele Maffei, a structural engineer and executive director of the California Residential Mitigation Program. "Essentially, it's like you're trying to pull the rug out from underneath the house."

What can be done to make them more secure?
solution is generally simple: add metal rods to attach the wooden house to the concrete foundation, and plywood "to add stiffness and strength to keep the house on its foundation," she said.
These types of homes have been damaged in earthquakes as early as the 1906 San Francisco quake, as well as in the 1933 Long Beach, 1971 Sylmar, 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge quakes, and last year's Napa earthquake.
Essentially, it's like you're trying to pull the rug out from underneath the house. - Janiele Maffei, of the California Residential Mitigation Program
"It's so distressing to drive around Napa and see these beautiful older homes that have slid off their foundation, and repairs can be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands" of dollars, Maffei said. In the worst case, a house shoved off its foundation could also sever gas lines, fueling a fire.
To reattach an intact house to its foundation, an owner might have to pay to lift the entire structure several feet and pour a new concrete foundation, then lower the house down at a cost as high as $400,000.
By contrast, the cost of a preventive retrofit is usually between $2,000 and $10,000, with an average price tag of $5,000, Maffei said.

What does the law say?
City governments have not required homeowners to make seismic retrofits to single-family homes. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Los Angeles city building officials briefly considered requiring 50,000 single-family homes to be retrofitted, but the idea was rejected.
State legislation that would have required wood-frame homes to be bolted to their foundations at the time they were sold was never approved.
Damage suffered by single-family wooden homes during earthquakes hasn't typically killed people. But it's the economic cost that can prove devastating to families, Maffei said.
In the Napa quake, some had to withdraw from retirement savings to begin repairs to devastated homes. Others decided to sell.

Is your home earthquake-ready? How to prepare for the Big One
Is your home earthquake-ready? How to prepare for the Big One