Morro Bay tears down iconic staircase. Will the city pay to replace it?

The stairs from Surf Street to Embarcadero in Morro Bay have been removed.
The stairs from Surf Street to Embarcadero in Morro Bay have been removed. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The historic Surf Street stairs in Morro Bay — which have existed since before the city was incorporated — have been removed, and neighbors are expressing their disappointment about a structure they associate with memorable sunsets and the town’s history.

The decades-old wooden stairs that led to the Embarcadero parking lot and restaurants — and featured a spectacular view of the ocean and Morro Rock — were deemed hazardous by the city, which assessed their decay after many years of weather exposure.

The potential liability costs, if someone were to be hurt, far outweighed the estimated cost to replace the stairs, city manager Scott Collins said.

Since the stair’s Dec. 4, 2018, removal, the city has received public comments at City Council meetings and on Facebook saying the stairs will be missed and should be replaced.

“That staircase was a big part of my childhood,” Facebook commenter Hazel Bree Bliss said. “We used it every day, sometimes two to three times a day. It’s kinda sad.”

Another commenter, Christopher Daly, said: “Watched a many of sunsets on those stairs. Will be missed.”

The city’s estimated cost to replace the stairs is “conservatively estimated to be between $600,000 and $800,000,” Collins said, and they would have to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Collins said the replacement structure would entail a total of five concrete ramp sections, with approximately 356 feet of pathway.

The stairs from Surf Street to Embarcadero in Morro Bay have been removed. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Because city has a limited budget for projects like this one, Morro Bay’s best bet to pay for a new stairway could come from a grant source, Collins said.

“We realize it may be a challenge to get that grant money, but we’ll try,” Collins said.

There are other access points nearby for people to get down to the Embarcadero, including nearby Beach Street, Collins said.

Collins said the city’s Citizens Finance Committee and the City Council both looked at spending money toward replacing the stairwell leading up to the 2018-2019 budget year. But they identified other budget priorities in more heavily trafficked city areas, including some sidewalk repair needs.

Councilwoman Dawn Addis encourages the public to participate in the public goal-setting process, noting they can offer input online through the website https://polco.us/morrobay.

Addis added: “For a full service city like Morro Bay that has a relatively smaller general fund, replacing the stairs will be a challenge. I invite the public to take part in the upcoming budget and goals process, which will help decide how funding should be allotted.”

Addis said she also hopes a donor can step up to help fund the stairs.

“I was sad to see the stairs removed because they are such an iconic part of Morro Bay,” Addis said. “They had historical significance and held a special place in the hearts of people who appreciate the unique feel of Morro Bay.”

The council also will soon be discussing possible upgrades for the Embarcadero, such as improvements to Centennial Plaza, expanding the boardwalk and sidewalk and arranging parking differently to encourage more pedestrian space, among other initiatives, Collins said. But ideas are still in the works.

“During the summer months, the sidewalks get crowded,” Collins said. “The time is ripe for these kinds of conversations.”

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.