Long Beach Breakwater Plan Presented to City Council and Citizens

Do the residents of Long Beach believe the breakwater issue is important? 

Ryan ZumMallen, Managing Editor of the Long Beach Post (LB Post) kept the city informed with a constant stream of “Tweets” during the entire proceeding of the Long Beach City Council meeting last evening, 27 July 2009.  City council members had already received hundreds of letters and messages from residents giving their opinions on the break water issue, and now the council was about to be presented with a detailed Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study offered by Russell H. Boudreau,  principle coastal engineer for a local engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol.

From Ryan ZumMallen’s Tweets (@lbpostdotcom):

  • I’m at the City Council meeting session on the LB Breakwater report that was released last week. You guys interested in updates?
  • Mayor Foster says that bringing back waves and improving water quality are very different, and that there is no easy solution for both
  • The breakwater report presents five options for improving water quality and maybe even bringing waves to LB (personally I liked #3)
  • … (continued) Govt Affairs Mgr. Tom Modica: “The goal is to determine if there is federal interest in a reconfiguration of the breakwater.”
  • Modica: “Long Beach’s efforts are unprecedented.”
  • Good sized crowd here, btw
  • … Engineer says, “This beach is a sleeping giant.” But it’s not clear if altering the breakwater would restore beaches or not
  • … Councilmember Garcia: “This would literally transform the city,” he says. “Having waves would be the best possible Stimulus plan for LB.”
  • … Councilmember Schipske: “This would be a fantastic economic stimulus plan for Long Beach.”
  • … Still going through public comment at the LB meeting on reconfiguring the breakwater. Whatever eventually happens, it won’t be easy or quick
  • … Seamus Ian Innes says: “Bringing waves back to LB should be the primary goal and increasing water quality should be a secondary goal.”
  • … Aaaaaaand… the meeting has ended.

This was an excellent use of real time tweeting, and did allow non-in-person participants to keep informed, and even ask questions during the proceedings.  A very hot topic for all residents of Long Beach.

This morning Mayor Bob Foster (Long Beach, California) sent the following message to the people of Long Beach:

“Dear Friend,

Last night, the City Council was presented with the Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study.  Click here to read the executive summary and the PowerPoint presentation.
This study adds a tremendous amount of facts to the discussion – we learned that wave height does not necessarily improve coastal water quality, especially knowing that most of the pollution travels down the L.A. River from the 39 cities upstream from Long Beach.  We also now know that some modifications to the breakwater bring waves back to Long Beach without harming property.  There is no real silver bullet solution to our challenges but adding these facts is a very important step going forward.  I also want to thank the Long Beach residents who pushed the City to study this issue.
Click here for additional information on the Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study on the City’s website. 

Please do not hesitate to contact my office at (562) 570-6801 or email me at mayor@longbeach.gov if you have any questions.

Best regards,

Mayor Bob Foster  


The Long Beach Press-Telegram also ran a front page story on the proceedings, expressing the positive outcome of this meeting, and although we are a very long way from any decision or outcome on the issue of the Long Beach Breakwater, we are one more baby step closer to resolving the 60 year old problem of altering the natural eco-system of San Pedro Bay (the area of water surrounding Long Beach, Seal Beach, and parts of San Pedro).

While Representatives Laura Richardson and Dana Rohrabacher did not attend, the city and residents of Long Beach, as well as all of Southern California owe them their gratitude for getting the funds to prepare the Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study, and bring us a small step forward.

John Savageau, Long Beach

The Long Beach Breakwater Removal Project Takes a Couple Baby Steps Ahead

The south facing beaches in LA and Orange Counties are enjoying an amazing swell of high surf.




In reality, there were numerous reports of 20 foot faces near the “Wedge” in Newport Beach. Beautiful surf, beautiful day – this is why we live in California.

Except in Long Beach. In an entirely informal, unscientific study I decided to check out the surf while jogging during my lunch break. Ran along Ocean Blvd in Long Beach to the Long Beach/Naples Peninsula, then took the beach route back home near 15th Place. Here are the results of that entirely unscientific study.

Upon hitting the beach near the peninsula, about a mile north of the Seal Beach Pier, the waves were hitting about 8 feet on the face. The water was a nice clear blue, and it was really cool to see such aggressive surf hitting the beach. As I worked my way along the Long Beach “City Beach” the waves remained fairly nice, but the swell was noticeably getting smaller, and was starting to turn from that wonderful blue to a cloudy blue.

By the time I hit Belmont Pier, the waves were about 1.5 ft, and not too aggressive. By the time I returned to 15th place, that wonderful ocean had turned relatively calm, and the water was getting a bit sludgy, flopping on the beach. The scent had turned noticeably sewage, rather than the sharp bite of salt air the Peninsula offered.

Long Beach Break Water asnd San Pedro BayThe Long Beach Breakwater, built to offer protection to Naval vessels during the second war, as well as protection to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, has altered the natural flow of ocean water for 60 years. We’ve touched on the story behind the breakwater in previous posts (Breaking the Long Beach Breakwater). Lots of great background information and a complete history of the breakwater.

Heal the Bay, a non-profit organization which monitors the beaches of California, routinely fails Long Beach’s beaches due largely to the poor cleansing action of the ocean through Long Beach and San Pedro Bay (the name of the bay encompassing Long Beach Harbor and the area down to Seal Beach). The Los Angeles River also contributes a tremendous amount of pollutants to the bay, which stays local due to the inability of the area within the Long Beach Breakwater to cleanse itself.

Baby Steps Forward in Removing the Breakwater

The residents of Long Beach had a small success in getting the breakwater removal project moving ahead. A baby step, but a step forward. The Long Beach City Manager announced on Thursday that an initial Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study is completed, and available for public review.

Long Beach is lucky to have a city council and representative Laura Richardson from the 37th District of California, as well as additional support from Dana Rohrabacher, US Congressman from the 46th District of California. Representative Richardson made the news and gave hope to the people of Long Beach by securing a $100,000 appropriation for the reconnaissance study.

The next step is to hear feedback from the residents of Long Beach (27 July 2009, 5 p.m., at City Council Chambers). If, as anticipated the city gains favorable support from the residents, the next step is to deliver the reconnaissance study to the Army Corps of Engineers. Their only responsibility is to determine if it is in the federal interest to consider the breakwater removal project. A very long process will follow, and actual modification of the breakwater could be years away.

Still, we have made a first baby step in removing the breakwater, and returning San Pedro Bay to health.

Here are links to the Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study. While most important to the residents and visitors to Long Beach, this is a global issue, and will hopefully pique the interest of all who are concerned with the health of our oceans, citizens, and cities.

John Savageau, Long Beach

Breaking the Long Beach Breakwater

In 1938 Hawaii’s surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku held the first US national surf contest on the shores of San Pedro Bay in Long Beach, California.

For a variety of reasons, including development of Long Beach as a deep water port and use of Long Beach by the US Navy, a nine mile 50 foot deep breakwater extending nearly 12 feet above the ocean was built between 1932 and 1949. The breakwater is owned by the US government, and thus the city of Long Beach has been merely an observer in the process over the past 60 years, and has suffered the negative impact of a breakwater which has significantly altered the eco-system of San Pedro Bay.

Google Maps View of Long Beach Breakwater

Impacts of the Long Beach Breakwater

The ocean has a natural flow, developed over millions of years. Currents keep runoff from the land, and other sources such as the Los Angeles River from stagnating in the bay, recycling the water through nature’s own system of environmental maintenance.

lb-surfingSince the natural current of water coming into San Pedro Bay was changed, the current has moved further south along the beach area near the Long Beach Peninsula, resulting in accelerated beach erosion. Property owners are in danger of flooding due to this erosion, and are now being forced to pay for a beach replenishment project needed to protect property when heavy southern swells push massive amounts of water through the narrow inlet created by the breakwater.

While Long Beach has one of the most impressive beaches in the Southern California area, on any given summer day the beaches are nearly deserted. The water, lacking any real recirculation or current, is stagnant and much higher in pollutants than other beaches around the area. The “Save the Bay” organization has a monthly review of all beach areas around Los Angeles County, and routinely fails Long Beach’s coastal areas.

Just a few minutes away, the beaches at Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, or even the South Bay area around Redondo Beach are close enough to provide a much better alternative than spending an afternoon in an unhealthy, sometimes smelly beach such as most of Long Beach.

Legitimate Concerns

Of course, as with all things, this is not a simple issue. The THUMS oil islands would need to be reinforced to withstand additional surf. The areas around Shoreline Village would need some reinforcement, although the breakwaters on the Long Beach Harbor side of the bay would probably not be affected, and Shoreline would be secure.

Since the Naples area was heavily built and populated after construction of the breakwaters, there would also be a potential of higher water levels and flooding within this rather opulent section of town. There is also some disagreement on the potential effect on the Long Beach Peninsula, with some believing removing the breakwater would increase the risk of flooding in that area as well.

Breakwater Politics

On July 24, 2007, the Long Beach City Council directed staff to fund a Long Beach Breakwater Reconnaissance Study. “This reconnaissance study is the first step in answering the community’s questions about the impact and role of the Long Beach Breakwater, and could help determine the future of the City’s coastal areas.” LB Gov

Other organizations, with the “Surfrider Foundation” at the top of the list, have done extensive studies on the oceanic, climate, environmental, and social impacts of the Long Beach breakwater. The Surfrider Foundation has been successful in bringing public attention and awareness to the debate. Their studies are available as detailed reports at:

As an emotionally charged issue, politicians are naturally attracted or forced into the discussion. The congressional district of Long Beach falls into the 42nd congressional district, a seat held by Dana Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher has fallen on both sides of the issue, recently bending to the volume of discussion favoring removal of the breakwater.

Long Beach Councilwoman Rae Gabelich is in favor of doing a detailed study of the issue, not making a definitive statement one way or the other.
Frank Colonna, a former council member and resident of the city’s peninsula area was also the lone vote against approving a study two years ago.

On Friday, 26 June (2009) Congresswoman Laura Richardson announced she had secured $100,000 in federal funding to evaluate the Federal interest in a reconfiguration of the Long Beach Breakwater.

After requesting funding last year, conducting several meetings with the Army Corps and intense negotiations with Appropriations Committee leadership, today all of Long Beach once and for all can review the facts of the longest urban breakwater in the country,” Congresswoman Richardson announced. “This $100,000 allocation for the Army Corps’s reconnaissance report is one of the most vital allocations this region will receive and it is particularly vital in these economic times to ensure an objective evaluation is made so that all resident, business and government issues and concerns are considered.”

Next Steps

The federal announced by Congresswoman Richardson is only the first step in a fairly lengthy process. This first step only funds the Army Corps of Engineers to initiate the “Reconnaissance Study,” which will determine if there is US Government interest in removing or altering the breakwater. If the Army Corps of Engineers determines breakwater alterations are in the government’s interest, they will then create a Project Management Plan (PMP).

The PMP documents the purpose of a feasibility study for the alteration, and tasks needed to complete the project. The PMP may include the City of Long Beach, and recommend a potential agreement that would outline the relationship between the city, the Army Corps or Engineers, and the federal government to complete the project.

This would include items such as who pays what percentage, which agency completes the tasks, and the overall plan to complete the project. This could take years.

On the other hand, we have to start at some point, and Congresswoman Richardson has taken the lead in representing the people of Long Beach in addressing the issue.

What We Can Do

Regardless of which side of the Long Beach Breakwater issue we stand, we need to take a stand. The result of this study and debate will potentially cost the city and government a lot of money, change the environment, and change the value of property near the waterfront. There will be an impact on surrounding communities, and an impact on the oil industry.

On the other hand, maybe someday in the future surfers will return to Long Beach and the city will regain its historical nickname as the “Waikiki Beach of California.”

John Savageau, Long Beach

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