Breakwater press conference

Mayor Robert Garcia listens as Army Corps chief planner for the Los Angeles District Ed De Mesa answers a question Monday. The event was to unveil alternatives in the Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.

Long Beach and the Army Corps of Engineers aren’t shutting the door on bringing back some waves to the city’s low-key beachfront — but the two agencies aren’t clear on when they might make a decision, either.

Long Beach’s Manager of Government Affairs Diana Tang said during a Tuesday, June 25, Surfrider Foundation meeting that the two bodies are making progress on studying potential changes to the city’s breakwater, but “we don’t yet have a timeframe” on when that study period may end, she said.

The Tuesday meeting was the first update on the issue since September, when city officials unveiled six options for improving the marine habitat in the east San Pedro Bay — four of which left the breakwater as it currently stands.

While most of those choices focused on building up the natural ecosystem with rock reefs, kelp beds, eel grass and more, the other two plans would remove portions of the breakwater.

Tang said Tuesday that one of those options — removing the easternmost third of the breakwater — has since proved “not quite viable.”

She said that although the Navy’s base is no longer in Long Beach, it still has the Weapons Station in neighboring Seal Beach along with the only active explosives anchorage in the Pacific region just off the Long Beach shoreline — which relies on the breakwater.

“We cannot move that. It’s not replicable anywhere else,” she said. “We cannot modify the breakwater in any way that negatively impacts national security due to reduced operational capacities of that facility.”

But, she said, removing two 1,000-foot segments from the mid-section of the breakwater is still under consideration — although Tang was clear that she wasn’t making any promises on that front.

The city and the Army Corps could “study it and potentially — again, because I’m not saying it’s possible — alter the breakwater in a way that would increase circulation in the bay but not impact maritime operations or national security,” Tang said.

“That is a really, really, really tricky needle to thread,” she added.

Ultimately, the breakwater belongs to the Army Corps, so they get the final say. But Tang said her team has been working with the Army Corps to try to make the beachfront as useful and welcoming to as many people as possible.

The breakwater, a 2.5-mile long structure built about 2.5 miles off Long Beach’s shore, has been a touchy subject with local surfers for more than 20 years.

It was built in the 1940s to protect the fleet for a Navy base and shipyard, which shuttered in the ’90s.

Since then, the Surfrider Foundation has pushed to remove the breakwater, which could revive Long Beach’s halcyon days as a prime surfing destination.

For the foundation’s part, its chair Seamus Innes said he recognized the challenges that removing the breakwater could pose, such as flooding, shipping issues at the nearby ports, and yes, questions about what it would mean for naval operations.

But, Innes said, he hoped solutions could be found because he believed the upsides of a surf-friendly city could ultimately outweigh the costs.

“The benefits of modifying the breakwater are manyfold. We envision that it would be cleaner water and a restored ecosystem in Long Beach,” he said. “Lowering the rocks could create a giant kelp habitat — a reef — and we’re expecting quite the increased revenue from recreation and increased business.”

Whether Innes will ever see the necessary changes to allow that vision come true, though, is still unclear.

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