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This summer visitors walking onto the Wharf from the entrance have experienced a new wider sidewalk on the east side overlooking Main Beach and the Boardwalk. Just these few extra feet have added a new dimension to the Wharf experience, with much more of an ease to the stroll. Even from the other side, the overall effect is welcoming.

Its construction was a long time coming and along time delayed. Though it only expanded the width of the Wharf deck in this section by about six feet, it has taken more than that many years to get approval from the Coastal Commission to accomplish it. The Commission’s responsibility to citizens and resources, of course, is to guard against “mission creep” of projects and structures that may have environmental impacts in the coastal zone.

The issue, actually, has served all parties to better understand the nature of this intertidal zone and the relationship of the Wharf with it. Of special note is that the Wharf’s overall “footprint,” or spatial outline on the beach itself, has not been expanded.

The added deck width results from “cantilevered” cross beams extending out from the existing deck structure in an “overhang,” with no more sand area removed from the world than before. New pilings have been added in replacement of the weathering ones, driven alongside each, but again all remain within the same span as before construction. No net beach area has been removed, not even the six feet you now can stand on.

Even so, two concerns of the Coastal Commission were expressed, or rather re-expressed, in echo of the 1986 piling and deck expansion for Stagnaro Brothers Restaurant located at the center of the Wharf’s length. That Commission review found that (1) turbidity from pile driving and (2) additional shade on the sea surface from the decking were impacts to consider on the marine environment. In addressing these concerns, the nature of the site, here, was more accurately portrayed.

Essentially, the span of Cowells and Main Beaches are not in the nature of a timeless meditative state like a desert varnish. Rather, this sandy intertidal zone is dynamic. It experiences two throws and retreat of tides a day, constant sand transport, and surf from both north and south Pacific swells. It experiences scouring in winter and littoral drift deposits with the surf winter through summer. Throughout the spring and summer seasons, it also experiences a strong eddy spun from the northwest wind and wave pattern. The current in the “cove” formed by Lighthouse Point to the Santa Lorenzo River mouth (my definition) in morning is often, but not always, opposite of the current operating by afternoon. The current can travel from the northwest morning to afternoon, then switch from the southwest in late afternoon to evening. You can see this happen with the change of direction of boats moored on both sides of the Wharf.

The tidal reach here can be three to eight feet in a day, and the shore break can pound on the sand with force enough to break surfboards, and do. The driving of some pilings the width of telephone poles could hardly adversely affect this scene so normally in flux.

In all this action, life flourishes: the sandy midtide zone at the waterline typically supports burrowing marine creatures like mole crabs, amphipods, worms, clams, sand roaches, which in turn support shorebirds such as sanderlings, willets, godwits, gulls, sandpipers, and others. Waves commonly tears kelp from the beds at nearby Lighthouse Point to churn in suspension along the surf zone and then land here on the beach. This provides more forage for these same birds, and even crows, as well as detritus for the burrowing macro-invertebrates.

Fishes such as perches, sand dabs, pipefish, halibut, even stripped bass, are attracted to the churning of sand behind the surf where invertebrates become exposed. Throughout summer, schools of anchovies and sardines take up residence under the Wharf from the shallowest depths even just three feet to the seaward end and surrounding waters. All this can be seen from the Wharf.

The issue of added shade, seemingly insignificant at first glance, actually points up a larger issue of the very nature the Wharf has assumed over its ninety-six year history. Added shade cast by six feet of width to the Wharf, here, on a beach spanning three quarters of a mile or so, must be scarcely measurable. Taken as a whole, however, the Wharf does cast a zone of shade and shadow over the water in its half-mile stretch into Monterey Bay. Does it have any impact? In my opinion, yes. Why?

As a structure, the Wharf mimics a reef and attracts sandy bottom and rocky reef plants and creatures. Its poles attract attaching things like anemones, sea stars, and tunicates. Crabs traverse the pilings and gather in sand at the bases. Its deck cuts off sunlight, but so does a kelp canopy. And its shade seems favored by creatures that like to hide as a part of their acts, such as rockfish and lingcod.

During summer, schools of anchovies and sardines, along with perches, take up residence under the Wharf attracted, possibly, to the spawning of bay mussels on the pilings and even the cover afforded by the deck, much like submarine cave. They will forage there from days to weeks. These schools will consistently inhabit the darkest inner zone under the Wharf deck. A diver can swim through clouds of these fishes gleaming in gloom from one sunlit one side to the other.

The Wharf’s pilings are milled trees of Douglas fir pressure treated and coated with chemical solutions that have evolved over the years as barriers to burrowing worms. Typically, they have been pressure treated with creosote. More recent treatments are ACZA (ammoniated copper zinc arsenate). Wood pilings have proved resilient over decades to the shearing of swell and surf. Though creosote and ACZA are poisons against burrowing invertebrates, a casual dive reveals these pilings support a variety of anemones, tunicates, bryozoans, mussels, sea stars, nudibranchs, and crabs. Surf perches can often be seen nibbling at things on the pilings.

Catching Two Fish with One Piling

The entrance to the Wharf uses some of the original pilings sunk in 1914. It is the narrowest width of the entire span that supports visitation of over a million people a year, with attendant vehicles. Piling replacements were planned, but prudent planning strives to achieve the most good for every effort. Adding just these six feet of sidewalk has furthered several goals at once for both the City and the Coastal Commission. Safety worries for the City are getting emergency vehicles on and getting people off in a crisis. For the Coastal Act and its enforcing Commission, policy goals are public access, water recreation fishing in particular, and scenic qualities.

Until the new space was added, the east side walk was seven to nine feet wide for about 240 feet; the walkway on the west side is seventeen feet. On the east side, it was wide enough for two people to walk side by side to where the Wharf widens. When others approached from the opposite direction, somebody gave way or jumped into the vehicle lane, cars or not. Wheelchair passage on this side could be a chore. During summer this zone is also popular for anglers lost in a great lather to hook a halibut or stripped bass, or even anchovies and sardines when schools mass around the Wharf.

With the new walk, not only do pedestrians walk in greater safety, but anglers lean on the railing with both elbows, wheelchairs face no head on collisions, and vehicle traffic can be routed one side or another as flexibility, emergency, or construction calls.

The Wharf crew even put a flourishing touch in the final textured cement, impressions of sea shells; so that you feel you are really walking on a beach.

Last updated: 8/26/2010 11:42:21 AM