A conservation project to restore a patch of eroded beach along Surfers Point will need further funding soon, or beachgoers might find minimal parking, at best, at the Ventura hot spot by next summer.

City officials have already locked in about $3 million to begin work on recessing the Surfers Point shoreline about 64 feet, but if a tentative deadline of Memorial Day 2010 isn’t met, parking could become a casualty for visitors there.

If added funding also isn’t found by next year, the second phase of the beach improvement work could be stalled indefinitely, according to Rick Raives, the city’s lead engineer in charge of the project.

The city’s public works department hopes to begin the first phase of extending the shoreline, which has shown signs of erosion over the years, by November. This involves covering the beach with cobblestones and sand, pushing back the nearby bicycle path, and temporarily removing almost half of available parking along Shoreline Drive, already scarce during peak summer months.

The project, funded entirely with grant monies, was given final approval by the Ventura City Council earlier this month, after a decade of negotiations with stakeholders and the securing of a construction budget. Slightly more than $6 million more is needed to complete the ambitious $9.6 million environmental project.

“We still have about half of the funds we’re scrambling (for),” says Joe McDermott, a principal civil engineer with the city. “Assuming we do move forward, about half of that parking lot will disappear.”

McDermott said that an interim lot is set aside across the street at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. It was a requirement, he said, to submit to state mandates.

“We have to replace a one-to-one ratio so there’ll be no net loss of parking,” he explained. “The intent is complying with the Coastal Commission, not reducing or eliminating public access to beaches. We have to provide a new parking area.”

The temporary parking arrangement between the city and fairgrounds officials was allegedly filled with disagreements that may have contributed to the drawn-out process in getting the beach restoration project up and running. A call seeking comment from Barbara Boester-Quaid, fairgrounds director, was not returned in time for deadline.

“It’s a big pill to swallow for the fairgrounds, to lose property,” Raives said.

The project has a long history. According to city staff reports from an Aug. 3 City Council meeting, it was conceived as far back as 1995, with a concept plan arriving into officials’ hands two years later. Through 1998 and 1999, state and county grants were sought with both the Coastal Resource Grant program and the Congestion Migration and Air Quality program, the latter through the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

The two years following 2000 entailed various environmental studies with local engineering and consulting firms. In mid-2003, the project design was finalized, followed by two more years of pursuing additional grant funding. In 2006, a city-appointed ad hoc committee began meetings with the fairgrounds’ board of directors.

During 2008 and 2009, nearly 15 years since the project’s inception, the search for more funding continued, and the final design plan was approved, something that Ron Calkins, the city’s public works director, says had been a big point of contention over the years.

According to Calkins, discussion of the beach project at one point boiled down to either pushing back the eroded shoreline — allowing the newly-extended beach to repair itself over time — or selecting an option to stall the erosion. Officials ultimately chose the former.

“The tug of war was really between those who wanted the bike path replaced from its prior location with some kind of seawall to protect it from winter storms, versus those who said, ‘Leave Mother Nature alone,’” recalls Calkins.

“(It’s) actually designed to take into account some global warming and sea level rise,” said McDermott.

In addition to dealing with the state Coastal Commission, part of the delay in getting the project on track involved the city’s obligation to obtain permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among others.

Paul Jenkin, director of the stakeholding Ventura Surfrider Foundation, said preserving the bike path is an important step in the first phase of the conservation project.

“Ironically, when the bike path was originally constructed in 1989, it was in the midst of a fairly long-term drought,” he said.

But the bike path quickly began showing its own signs of deterioration, according to McDermott.

“We built that bike path, and not too long after it got put in, we had a storm and the waves pretty much took it out,” he said.

Stricken with unseasonable gloom and fog, Surfers Point was still moderately filled with visitors this week in support of preserving the beach and its bike path. Ben Beeler, newly transplanted to Ventura, said a lack of parking could discourage important tourists from visiting.

“I think it’s gonna suck,” he said of the lot situation. “It’s pretty empty out here now, but when there are waves, it’s pretty packed.”

Calkins says once Phase 1 is complete, the bike path pushed back, and parking restored, the city hopes to have the remaining funds it needs to complete the project. According to his staff report from Aug. 3, although $5 million in federal stimulus money was denied the city, there is an additional $1.5 million in unused grant money, as well as nearly $195,000 in available funds culled from citywide gas taxes.

Raives says the city continues to look for more ways to obtain funding, accepting the fact that the project may have to be put temporarily on hold. Phase two, according to Raives, is hoped to include the addition of fencing, new landscaping, picnic and interpretive areas, and a new cul-de-sac at the end of Shoreline Drive.

“What we’ll get with this first phase is a real good backbone” to the project, he said. “At this point, we don’t have any idea right now what might be available. But we continue to look.”   

paul@vcreporter.com