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Chunk of popular Santa Cruz walkway falls into the ocean

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A large chunk of sidewalk broke off a cliff in a popular walking area in Santa Cruz on Friday, causing a hazard for pedestrians and a bureaucratic headache for locals.

The sidewalk on West Cliff Drive caved in near Columbia Street, close to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. The incident took place on Black Friday, a popular day for pedestrians to stretch their legs after a Thanksgiving feast. It does not appear anyone was hurt when the sidewalk caved in.

With stunning beachside vistas, West Cliff Drive is a well-trafficked street that’s used by walkers, bikers and drivers. Officials closed off the sidewalk around where the issue occurred, forcing pedestrians to walk in the street. But according to Twitter users, no car lanes were closed, creating a potential safety hazard.

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One resident was remarkably blasé about the fact that a sheet of concrete had just fallen down a cliff.

“I think it’s a natural phenomenon. This is something that happens all the time,” said Santa Cruz resident Laurine in an interview with KSBW.

Others, though, see the erosion as an example of local government dragging its feet. In a lengthy Twitter threaduser @philboutelle declared, “Today’s washout on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz should be a call to action.”

Erosion is not a new problem for the Santa Cruz’s beachside cliffs, and it is expected to become more and more of a challenge as sea levels rise due to climate change.

Santa Cruz officials are aware of the issue with West Cliff Drive and say they have made progress in rectifying the situation. In 2021, Santa Cruz passed the West Cliff Drive Adoption and Management Plan. According to Santa Cruz Local, the plan “tries to give residents, city leaders and the California Coastal Commission an overarching framework of where re-armoring should take place and where erosion could be managed.”

Solutions floated include making the street one-way for cars, which would free up room for pedestrians and a bike lane. Proponents of this idea point to East Cliff Drive, which runs along the beach on the other side of town, and is partly one-way with a designated bike lane.

However, the process to make these changes can be slow. Santa Cruz Public Works Associate Engineer Josh Spangrud told KION that repairs may not even begin until 2023.

Santa Cruz resident Keith, who spoke to KSBW, hopes the sidewalk issue will hasten the city’s response. “Sometimes,” he said, “the people that make these decisions need a little kicking (in) the backside to get it going.”

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