West Cliff Drive is closed to traffic on some sections following storm damage last year.

West Cliff Drive remains closed to drivers between Almar Avenue and Columbia Street. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> More than 60% of respondents in a recent survey said West Cliff Drive should be one-way. Respondents ranked driving on West Cliff as a lower priority than walking, cycling, beachgoing, accessing the surf and enjoying the view. 

A city-sponsored survey of 1,120 people took place Dec. 7 to Jan. 10. The results were released Tuesday in an online meeting hosted by city consultant Farallon Strategies. Consultants said a selection of registered voters were contacted to take the online survey, representing a statistically significant cross section of the Santa Cruz community.

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City staff have been soliciting public input as they create a draft 50-year vision for the future of West Cliff, due to the Santa Cruz City Council in April. 

Parts of the cliff and paved path had extensive storm damage last year. Erosion is expected to worsen with more powerful storms linked to climate change. “We can’t continue to be reactive given the pace the climate is changing and the extent of the damage we see at West Cliff,” Assistant City Manager Laura Schmidt said in an interview.

West Cliff survey results

Survey respondents were asked to rate their priorities of West Cliff uses. Fewer than half of respondents said it was important that driving remain among the future uses of West Cliff, compared with 93% whose priority was enjoying the scenery, 91% for walking and jogging, 78% for wildlife watching, 72% for cycling, 59% for surfing and 26% for fishing. 

“Driving was pretty far down on the list,” said Michael McCormick, president of Farallon Strategies.

In a previous community meeting, some Santa Cruzans expressed a willingness to eliminate driving and parking if forced to give up one thing. Yet in the survey, few respondents preferred a car-free West Cliff. 

About 61% of survey respondents said they wanted to convert West Cliff Drive to one-way traffic, and about 32% of respondents wanted to keep it two-way. Among those who live closest to West Cliff, residents’ preference was roughly tied between one-way or two-way traffic.

If the 2.7-mile road were to become one-way, it remains undecided whether it would run east, west or one-way in sections. East Cliff Drive at Pleasure Point was officially made one-way in 1995. 

About 80% of survey participants said they wanted to outlaw parking of RVs and other oversized vehicles on West Cliff. City rules already limit overnight RV parking. Similarly, about 80% of survey respondents supported the restoration of bird and wildlife habitat.


Sightseeing, walking, cycling, surfing and other uses of West Cliff ranked higher than driving in a recent survey. (Farallon Strategies)

A survey of 1,120 people suggests that beach access and a separated bike path were important to respondents. About 80% of respondents said oversized vehicle parking should be illegal on West Cliff. (Farallon Strategies) 


Recent damage and repairs

West Cliff historically has been stabilized with seawalls and strategically placed piles of large boulders known as rip rap. Other approaches can better recognize ecosystem consequences such as beach erosion and changes to surf breaks, researchers have said. 

City staff have said that sea-level rise and larger storms are expected with climate change, and maintenance costs for West Cliff could dramatically escalate.

Most survey respondents favored one-way traffic on West Cliff Drive, shown in green. (Farallon Strategies)

“Almost 50% of West Cliff is protected by seawalls and rip rap, of varying age and in varying condition,” according to the city’s 2021 West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan. This “may not be sufficient to mitigate future sea level rise hazards,” the report stated. 

Last winter’s storms knocked portions of West Cliff into the ocean, particularly around Bethany Curve. West Cliff Drive has remained closed to most vehicle traffic from Columbia Street to Almar Avenue, although homeowners and work crews still have access.

Reeling from the storm damage and the expense of repairs, the city council in May instructed city staff to develop the 50-year vision. There have been community meetings, focus groups and surveys.

Santa Cruz Public Works Director Nathan Nguyen said that although repairs at Bethany Curve remain in the design phase, he hopes construction on a new culvert will begin this summer. He added that additional repairs are taking place along West Cliff from Woodrow Avenue to Lighthouse Field State Beach.

Nguyen said that storms this January caused further erosion on West Cliff near the lighthouse and between Auburn and Sacramento avenues. A detour to Pelton Avenue remains.

 “Folks want to still be able to recreate on West Cliff,” said Jenn McKenzie, operations and project lead at Farallon Strategies.

Storm damage in January 2023 prompted city staff to close vehicle traffic near West Cliff Drive and Woodrow Avenue. (TR Dreszer — Contributed) 

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Jesse Greenspan is a freelance journalist who writes about history, science and the environment. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, Audubon and other publications.