Artificial Reef for Broad Beach Explored

Broad Beach in 1972.

After years of hard work and setbacks—including delayed permits, a lawsuit, a sand source denial, millions of dollars spent and other troubles—not one bucket of sand has been added to starved Broad Beach, where residents have been working to replace the disappeared shoreline with sand for more than a half decade.

Back in 2012, homeowners banded together to create the Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District, a formal body able to make decisions about the future of the beach. In 2015, the California Coastal Commission approved a beach nourishment project but, so far, no sand.

“The GHAD still remains hopeful that they’re going to be able to nourish the beach this year,” GHAD attorney Ken Ehrlich said in an interview in early August 2017. “Technical folks, me and others, are full steam ahead; we want to put sand on the beach this year.”

The plan, which involves major “nourishments” (sand dumps of up to 300,000 cubic yards) every five years, is designed to continue in perpetuity, with at least the first 10 years already permitted. Because the sand will continue to wash away, the project is essentially designed to go on forever. 

Now, there’s a new push for an artificial reef that’s touted as a solution that would dramatically cut back on the amount of new sand that must be trucked in to keep Broad Beach living up to its name. Local land use planning and consultant company Schmitz & Associates, Inc., has been hired by a couple of Broad Beach homeowners to investigate the use of artificial reefs to retain sand along the posh shoreline.

Artificial reefs—in this case, hollow spheres called reef balls—are designed to “break the back” of waves, taking energy away before they reach the sandy shore and keeping sand from being sucked away.

“It will work,” Don Schmitz said when asked what the benefits of an artificial reef project are in comparison to the previously permitted project.

“The presently proposed beach nourishment project will simply wash away,” he continued. “If you incorporate an offshore reef, your can retain the sand of the beach nourishment project.”

The Broad Beach GHAD is made up of about 120 Broad Beach homeowners willing to put down millions of dollars in order to preserve their backyard beach. Already, the group has spent an estimated $12–14 million through the planning and permitting process (depending on who you ask).

Ehrlich said the artificial reef solution isn’t quite that simple.

“The [GHAD] Board supports sand retention if at all possible,” Ehrlich explained, describing multiple efforts the GHAD made to convince California Coastal Commission staff to explore the idea of an offshore reef.

“The only point of supporting it is if it’s viable and if it can be permitted,” Ehrlich said, later adding, “The fact that the Coastal Commission, the [State] Lands Commission and other agencies have said they will not permit such a device has led the GHAD, at least for the time being, to continue its course of moving ahead with its project as approved.”

Schmitz, who with a team of experts has been working on a report detailing the viability of reefs at Broad Beach, said going to the Coastal Commission with a proposal is the best way forward.

“The property owners must decide if they wish to spend $60–80 million on a beach nourishment project that will most likely simply wash away,” Schmitz said. “If they choose not to pour sand and money down the drain, the next step would be to submit a coastal development permit amendment to the California Coastal Commission for an alternative proposal.”

The nourishment project is assessed at $1,350 per linear foot of beach, Schmitz said, with Ehrlich estimating each five-year replenishment would cost about $14–16 million. The artificial reef project would cost homeowners upwards of $2,400 per linear foot of beach to install the reef.

Schmitz said time is of the essence to get moving on the artificial reef permitting process, which could take up to two years.

“The laudable goals and objectives that everyone has—property owners, regulatory agencies and general community of Malibu—need to be realized as soon as possible,” he said. “That goal is a beautiful beach, restored sand dunes and effective access for the property owners and the general public. As the current proposal ultimately will not work, we need to move forward with other options.”

Time, from the GHAD Board of Directors’ point of view, would be better served focusing on the already permitted project.

“I’ve heard Mr. Schmitz himself say that the permitting process could be more than two years for this reef component, so undoubtedly it would entail delay to the project,” Ehrlich said. 

“The board, the GHAD Board, so far is not interested in further delaying the project, and again they’ve said—just so it’s clear—the reef is essentially a great idea, we’d love to be able to retain the sand, but only if it’s acceptable to the permitting agency, so therefore we don’t want to delay the project.”