Ridenour is among those who contend that the cliffs should be allowed to erode. “If you build in Mission Valley and the flood comes down, why should the taxpayers’ money fix it up? I think if you build on the cliffs, it’s the same thing… The property have kept this alive all along. If they were going to pay the full cost, then I might think differently about it. But they’re asking the rest of us to subsidize them.” In fact, the Woodward-Clyde report estimates that the total project should cost $2.2 million, with the property owners paying about a third of that cost.
The plan calls for them to pay in proportion to the work proposed for their site, a plan which still would result in some whopping assessments. The owner of the peeling wooden structure at 1615 Ocean Front Boulevard, for example, would be assessed $30,000; the owners of the five-unit condo complex at 1627 Ocean Front would pay $31,848. Nonetheless, Barnes says a preliminary survey of the property owners living directly on the cliff edge (the ones who would pay special assessments) indicates very strong support for the Woodward-Clyde plan. “I don’t need to go into hock anymore,” says Jay Kahn, the owner of the structure at 1701 Ocean Front Boulevard. “But it’s something that you have to do. It’s either that, or pack up and go away.” Mary Snell, a realtor whose assessment would be just $520, says, “When people have lived here as long as they have, they want to stay at any cost.” Snell rejects the explanation that the current proposals unfairly subsidize one small group. “To say that would just be like me saying that University Avenue shouldn’t be improved because I don’t drive down University Avenue.”
Considering the willingness of the cliff dwellers to pay their shares, the plan is much more likely to run into trouble getting the necessary money from the state ($1.1 million) and city ($430,000). Although the city already raised some of the money (it collected about $200,000 for the project during a bond issue in 1966), the rest has not yet been earmarked. Barnes says the passage of Jarvis II would likely jeopardize both state and local funds. “It would probably throw the entire project into question,” he states. But rather than wait for that fateful day in June, Barnes says his department plans to start taking the Woodward-Clyde recommendations through the necessary channels, beginning with a presentation to the Ocean Beach Planning Board in early May. He says strong resistance to the plan there also could portend an end at last to the twenty-year saga.