It’s big, it’s iconic, but some say it’s worn out its welcome. For the greater part of a century, the Long Beach Breakwater has defined the local seascape and horizon. The last of three breakwaters developed in the East San Pedro Bay, the Long Beach breakwater stretches as far north as the Queen Mary, down to just before the Alamitos jetty.
Built as a wartime and economic necessity, in recent decades, it’s been blamed for poor water quality, unnatural current exchanges, and large scale ecosystem disruption. While it was long deemed as a permanent fixture in our waters, the United States Army Corps of Engineers now has plans to study the breakwater’s impact and determine if a removal is needed.
The Surfrider Foundation and those that seek to restore Long Beach’s original aquatic ecosystem favor its removal. Some residents fear an increase in wave action could result in property damage and want it to remain. Let’s take a brief look at why the breakwater exists, and how its removal could impact Long Beach.
A Wartime Relic
Constructed in the 1940s in the midst of World War II, the Long Beach breakwater was built by the U.S. Navy as part of a deep water port project. It also served as a barrier and deterrent to enemy submarines.
While the navy shipyard was active throughout the 1940s and 1950s, it was only used periodically in the following years for special projects before closing in 1997. With no shipyard to shelter or defend, the necessity of the breakwater has come into question.
Restoring Long Beach’s aquatic ecosystem is a primary goal of the movement to remove the breakwater. Returning natural circulation into the waters of Long Beach Harbor would help improve water quality along the entire shoreline. The breakwater currently blocks ocean currents that would help remove the pollutants from the Los Angeles River.
With an increase in water quality, the city could expect a boom in tourism. Without the breakwater to block ocean swells, Long Beach would once again be home to thriving surf spots. Long Beach was once known as the “Waikiki of Southern California.” A return to form would make it a popular water sports and leisure destination among surfing enthusiasts.
Pristine sands, clean water, and greater notoriety as an in-demand beachfront community would most likely lead to higher property values. Currently Long Beach coastal real estate values are lower than those of similar nearby beach towns. The Surfrider Foundation projects that the combination of clean water and active surf breaks will help elevate Long Beach home values if the breakwater is removed.
As with many beach communities, erosion is a concern. The southeastern end of Ocean Boulevard runs through the middle of Long Beach’s Peninsula neighborhood. This narrow stretch of land separates the Alamitos Bay from the Pacific Ocean. At the tip of the breakwater and with more wave action than most of Long Beach, the peninsula has suffered from chronic beach erosion and residents have had to take precautions to minimize its effects.
In some years the problem has become serious enough to threaten homes and cause localized flooding. The City of Long Beach spends $300,000-500,000 every year to move sand from around Belmont Plaza to the Peninsula. If the breakwater is removed, more of Long Beach might experience erosion issues, and the Peninsula’s problems could increase.
Other structures may be at risk too. The Belmont Pier, oil islands, Shoreline Marina, and other areas around the mouth of the Los Angeles River were developed with the breakwater’s subdued wave and current action. If the breakwater were to be removed, these structures might need to be reinforced or modified to withstand open-ocean swells.
No matter which side you’re on, removing the breakwater would be a major transformation for Long Beach. From a real estate perspective, the risk of more open ocean swells might be worth the added home values that cleaner beaches and waters could bring. As with any change, residents may have to adjust, but knowing what may come and understanding how removing the breakwater will affect you and the city is a great first step forward.