Seaside Folk Bracing for Possible Record Tides : Bayview Drive Residents Want More County Aid

Times Staff Writer

The folks who live on Bayview Drive in Sunset Beach can saunter from their living rooms out to the docks and step directly onto their boats before heading out to sea.

Their boats lie anchored in the community and so do their lives. They often speak in nautical terms and spend much of their leisure time cruising the waterways.

But residents of Bayview Drive and other beachfront communities along the Southern California coast face a downside to living on the ocean's doorstep: They must cope with the usual end-of-the-year high tides.

Although tides usually are worse during winters, the last serious damage by high tides was sustained during the summer of 1983. Orange County officials estimated that tides then caused at least $1.2 million in damage to homes in the area.

Experts predict, however, that this year's high tides next Tuesday through Thursday--especially if combined with winter storms--may be harsh. The highest tide--7 foot, 8 inches--is expected Wednesday morning.

"There is the potential these tides could be the highest in the century," said Steve Gill, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Baltimore.

If the prediction proves true, Bayview Drive residents will be among the hardest hit because of their proximity to the water's edge.

Although residents do not have any plans now to evacuate, they are taking precautions. They have been piling sandbags alongside their garages, stockpiling plywood and plastic sheets, and keeping flashlights and portable radios handy. Each homeowner in the area has invested in at least one pump at costs ranging from about $70 to $100. They say the pumps can be put to good use if the flood water starts creeping toward their doors.

The homeowners are searching for any cracks and sealing them up, making their homes as snug as possible. And some new residents have even elevated their houses to prepare for the expected high tides. "If it gets too bad," resident Bruce Hicks said "there is not too much you can do but pull out the brandy."

The only way to reach Bayview Drive, an island in an unincorporated area of Orange County, is to drive or walk across the Anaheim Bridge. "We can dig two feet down and then hit water," a Bayview Drive resident said.

About 10 neighbors on Bayview Drive have formed a committee to battle both the elements and what they say is the county's indifference to helping them during floods. County officials have said they do all they can with the money they have available.

Some residents remain unconvinced and fairly pessimistic about future generations living on their street. "Ultimately, we are all going to go down into the beautiful, blue Pacific," Hicks said, speaking only slightly tongue in cheek.

He and friends Bob Brunelle and Burt Alexander recently sat around his dining room table, discussing life in their community and its threat of high tides.

"This is home. This little island," Hicks said.

Hicks, a restaurant supplier and organizer of the neighborhood group, has lived on Bayview Drive for eight years. His fondness for oceanfront living drew him and other residents to the area, he said.

Now they are working to save their homes from being damaged by the tides and other flooding.

Alexander, owner of an advertising agency, is the newest resident on Bayview Drive. He said he was aware of the risks when he moved there a little more than a year ago.

Yet his first experience with the high tides on Dec. 2 caught him somewhat unprepared.

"My inexperience had me sitting here watching water come into my house," he said. "Then I was out desperately trying to find sandbags."

Because the family did not have sandbags, water seeped past their patio, underneath the house and into the home.

"The water just oozed past the seawall," said Alexander's wife, Maureen. "It went about five feet into the house and onto the carpeting and the furniture. When you put your feet into the carpeting, you were sloshing in the water. It was no fun."

When the tides subsided, the couple grabbed towels and tried to soak up the water. Then they turned on a portable heater. "My plants that I had on the outside all died from the seawater," she lamented. "They are all gone. Our biggest problem was that we could not find sandbags. It all happened so fast."

While the Alexanders battled their flooding, other residents on Bayview Drive grabbed a pump from the volunteer fire department, dragged it out into the street and began pumping the water back into the channel with the help of county workers.

But the worry now is that weather conditions could make the next high tide much worse.

Unlike earthquakes, which strike and destroy without so much as a second's warning, high tides can be predicted with the help of networks of observatory tide stations stationed around the coastal United States, oceanographer Gill said.

"We analyze and record the positions of the earth, moon and the sun, then set up prediction equations," he explained in a telephone interview.

It is not news to Bayview Drive residents, but every 18 1/2 years a phenomenon called a perigee occurs. The moon's orbiting reaches the point nearest to the earth and causes higher than usual tides.

Weather conditions can severely aggravate the problem, Gill said. "We can predict the tide, but we cannot predict the effect the weather will have on the tide. If there is a storm at the same time, it can push the tide even further in. The severity people will suffer depends on how close their property is to the ocean."

That's what worries Bayview Drive residents. "If it rains on the days of the high tides, we are going to have to pump like crazy to keep the water out," Brunelle said.

The residents believe that they deserve more help from the county. "I pay my taxes. I don't think it is my responsibility to pump the water out from the street," said Brunelle, a retired police officer and a 15-year resident of Bayview Drive.

Residents would like the county to buy a large pump to clear streets during flooding. "But that suggestion fell on deaf ears," Hicks said. So the neighborhood committee members are considering pooling their money and buying their own pumping equipment.

Rod Speer, executive assistant to county Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, whose district includes Sunset Beach, said that pumps will not solve the flooding problem. "Pumps are used for after the fact. They are not going to keep the water from getting in their homes in the first place. A pump will just recycle the water right back out into the ocean. It is a futile effort."

Houses on Bayview Drive should have been built higher by developers, Spear said, or an extended protective seawall built by the county would solve the problem. "But it is just an unfortunate fact of life that extending the seawall is costly," Spear said. "Money is the problem."

Said Otto Strehlow of Huntington Harbour Realty: "Most people who want to buy on the beach are aware that there are storm problems. Because of the price range ($600,000, he said, for an average house in the area), these are sophisticated people. For the joy of looking out at the ocean and looking across at Catalina Island, these are the risks they are willing to take."

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