The Cambrian

Cambria’s top 10 stories for 2017

Bret Haney, construction inspector with Caltrans, looks at the south side of the Mud Creek Slide on Highway 1 in May.
Bret Haney, construction inspector with Caltrans, looks at the south side of the Mud Creek Slide on Highway 1 in May. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It was a busy year in 2017, with a number of big stories hitting The Cambrian’s pages, a few of which resonated beyond the community. Here’s a look back at the year that was, with the top 10 stories, as chosen by Managing Editor Stephen Provost and Cambrian Staff Writer Kathe Tanner.

1. Highway 1 closures

Business and tourism along Highway 1 slid downhill after more than 4 million tons of dirt and rock buried the scenic coastal road May 20 at Mud Creek. Cambria, San Simeon, Big Sur and Cayucos were all affected.

Heavy winter rains saturated the earth, creating conditions that led to the slide. And, as if that weren’t enough, a second big slide (Paul’s Slide) closed the road again to the north, leaving a 13-mile segment of road accessible only via a long inland detour. The Big Sur area, meanwhile, faced a challenge of its own when one of the columns supporting Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge started to give way, causing the road to heave and buckle.

The bridge and Paul’s Slide both required major efforts. Still, traffic resumed at Paul’s Slide in mid-July, and the bridge – which had to be demolished – was rebuilt from the ground up, opening anew in October.

Mud Creek presented a whole different kind of challenge: The slide was so massive it created a new peninsula where the coastline met the Pacific. Caltrans workers couldn’t dig down to the buried highway, which was destroyed anyway, so they decided to rebuild the road over the top of the slide. The plan, announced in September, placed the cost of the project at $40 million and put the target date for completion at late summer of 2018.

Until then, motorists will face the prospect of using Highway 101 to get from San Luis Obispo to Monterey and businesses will face a continued drop in the tourism trade along what many consider to be California’s most beautiful highway.

2. CCSD shakeup

As is often the case, the Cambria Community Services District produced more than one bit story in 2017.

When two members of the CCSD board – Mike Thompson and Greg Sanders – resigned within two months of each other late this year, it gave the remaining directors an opportunity to appoint a pair of replacements.

It wasn’t easy. Thompson and Sanders had both been members of the majority voting bloc on the board, and agreeing on replacements took five special meetings between the two of them. In the end, the board chose businessman Aaron Wharton (927 Beer Co.) to replace Thompson and retired Trane executive David Pierson to fill Sanders’ seat.

Thompson and Sanders left big shoes to fill apart from their service on the board. Both were active in American Legion Post 432. Thompson also served on the Chamber of Commerce board, while Sanders was active in Rotary and was named, with wife Teri, Cambria’s Citizens of the Year for 2015.

3. Storms, rain and then … nothing

As the North Coast baked in a warm, clear December 2017, with less than a tenth of an inch of rain in Cambria, it could have been difficult to remember the soggy conditions of just a year before.

Breaking a five-year drought, storm after storm pounded the area then, causing havoc in some neighborhoods, drenching Rocky Butte north of Cambria and sending chunks of the mountains above Highway 1 down onto the roadway.

Records show that more than 35 inches of rain fell on Cambria in the 2016-17 rain season — so-called “normal” is closer to 20 inches.

Since the storms abated, North Coast weather has been uncommonly dry and warm, as a La Niña condition took hold. In some sections of the county, December broke high-temperature records, as well as the records for the span between the high and low temperatures each day.

Aware, alert area residents have been preparing for dual threats: The possibilities for potentially disastrous wildfires and/or damage-producing downpours in early 2018.

Emergency responders and others, including from Cambria’s FireSafe Focus Group, are advising people to prepare for emergencies of all kinds. That means cleaning gutters, trimming trees, stockpiling sandbags, and other preparations for rain and wind events, while also clearing away dry brush, maintaining fire-readiness clearance around any structure and being ready in case a wildfire should start.

People who evacuated during the Napa-Sonoma and other Northern California fires, or for Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura County, know all too well about the difficulty of getting to a safe location quickly … even if you are prepared to do so.

For any emergency scenario, “go bags” filled with essentials are crucial, so people can evacuate quickly. For details, go to http://bit.ly/29gOzRh.

Learn more at an upcoming Focus group event.

4. Ambulance station damaged

Heavy rains that struck the Central Coast in early January did more than set the stage for road failures along Highway 1, they also forced Cambria’s ambulances to find a new home – at least temporarily.

A mudslide behind the Cambria Community Healthcare District ambulance station damaged a debris wall so badly that an ambulance was trapped and couldn’t get out.

The station itself was also damaged, so the district had to move its ambulance crews to first one, then another private residence. The board grappled with a pair of grant proposals, one to repair the building, and a second to build a new facility at the fire station. The board initially voted for the latter proposal, only to reverse course upon being told that the grant could only be used for repairs.

The ambulance station wasn’t the only thing damaged; the same storm also washed out a section of Santa Rosa Creek Road.

5. East Village fire

The fire wasn’t huge. What made it newsworthy was its location: within shouting distance of Main Street and the East Village business district.

Cambria firefighters contained the blaze to three acres after it started early in some eucalyptus trees on the afternoon of July 18.

Evacuations were ordered on Main and Bridge streets about an hour after the fire started, and residents on Wall Street and in the Santa Rosa Cemetery area were also advised to leave. Flames were visible across the street from The Cambrian offices, Redwood Center and Goldsmith’s on Main.

The evacuation orders were lifted before evening, but only a quick response from firefighters kept it from getting a lot worse. In all, 70 firefighters battled the blaze, and aircraft made repeated runs over the area, dropping 1,200 gallons of water a minute on the flames.

6. CCSD fined

The CCSD faced potential fines of $600,000 from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, more than three-quarters of that amount tied to 30 reports that were filed late over a two-year period.

In the end, the CCSD wound up paying $53,596 to settle the RWQCB complaint, but the district’s troubles weren’t over.

In April, the water board issued a cease-and-desist order over water levels at the impoundment basin, which were higher than mandated following heavy rains. Regulators also demanded that the district find a way to more quickly rid itself of the brine in the impoundment basin, which had been built as part of the Emergency Water Supply project, but which the district now hopes to convert into a storage basin.

The district had originally hoped to drain the basin via evaporation, but the water board deemed this unacceptable. Other options proved cost-prohibitive, and the district eventually came up with a plan to drain the pond over a period of less than six months through both evaporation and blending the basin’s contents with wastewater effluent. Estimated cost $20,000 to $30,000.

7. Truck vs. bakery

Feb. 25, 2017, was a typical Saturday morning until a truck driven by Ian Preston, 40, plowed through a packed parking lot at Main Street and Burton Drive and crashed into the busy sales room of the French Corner Bakery. The speeding truck pushed a Mercedes through the wall, and both vehicles wound up inside the building.

The accident wiped out a good chunk of the bakery, areas which had to be repaired, rebuilt and reoutfitted in a four-month project.

Five people were injured in the crash. Three of them were from Cambria. At least one required major surgery. They have subsequently recovered, although some have continuing effects from their injuries.

The bakery owned by Miguel and Lupe Viveros reopened June 23.

8. Young surfer dies

An Aug. 18 body-surfing accident in the waters off Moonstone Beach killed 2015 Coast Union High School graduate Liam Alex “Skinny” Taylor, 19. According to friends and family, Taylor had been in the water at one of his favorite spots at Moonstone Beach.

The tall, slender redhead with a wide, radiant smile was an avid skater, surfer, trained lifeguard and a member of the North Coast Ocean Rescue Team, a group of volunteers that offers assistance to people in distress in the water.

Tributes to the young man sprang up almost immediately, and large memorial paddle-out ceremonies in his honor were held locally and in Southern California. A scholarship fund in his name will be established by the rescue team and Cambria Firefighters Association, to help train a student for work in the public-service arena.

9. Basketball team No. 1

The Coast Union High School boys basketball team made its mark statewide by ascending to the top of the CIF Division 5A state rankings.

The Broncos won the Coast Valley League title with a perfect 10-0 record, compiling a 22-4 mark overall behind Jez Lawson’s stellar season. Lawson earned first-team all-CIF honors and was the league’s MVP. Jack MacKinnon and Auggie Johnson were first-team all-league choices.

The Broncos made it through the first three rounds of the CIF playoffs with victories over Besant Hill and Faith Baptist following a first-round bye. But despite being the top seed, they had to play on the road in the semifinals, and fell to the Sherman Indian School 53-48 after a long bus trip to Riverside.

10. More highway happenings

A jury deemed a two-lane section of Highway 1 south of Hearst Castle to be unsafe as part of a decision in a December lawsuit.

The jury did not find Caltrans liable for damages in a head-on collision that killed a Pennsylvania woman and badly injured her husband in 2011. But it did say the roadway was “in a dangerous condition” and urged Caltrans to restripe it to prevent passing.

Earlier in the year, in September, Caltrans completed a major realignment of the highway just north of Piedras Blancas. The new section of highway, 2.8 miles long, opened about 475 feet farther inland from the old route.

Three new bridges were built as part of the $19.7 million project, designed to protect the highway from erosion in places where waves from the Pacific washed up over the road at times.

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor; Kathe Tanner: 805-927-4140, @CambriaReporter

Honorable mentions

▪ Changes at the Pewter Plough playhouse.

▪ Massive water leak behind the Bluebird Inn.

▪ Former Morro Bay store owner killed in Cambria house fire.

▪ Cambria gears up for romance-themed film festival.

▪ Winsor Construction accountant Elizabeth Shaw jailed after embezzlement conviction.

▪ Couple disappears near Piedras, car and one body (plus dog) found.

▪ Four new condors are released above San Simeon.

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