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Erosion threatens scenery and real estate along iconic California coastline

California coast threatened by soil erosion
California's coastline threatened by soil erosion, with protection costs in the millions 03:37

This is supposed to be a beautiful beach, but instead it looks like a disaster area because a sea wall built about a decade ago to protect homes has failed. Now property owners are spending millions to fix it. 

From Mexico to Oregon, the iconic California coastline runs more than 3,400 miles. "CBS This Morning" correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti drove just over 600 of those miles to see how the state is getting ready for what scientists say is the inevitable future. 

His first stop was the beach community of Del Mar, about 20 miles north of San Diego. Principal Planner Amanda Lee says her town wants to dump additional sand on this beach over the next decade, at a total cost of about $6 million. 

"If we do nothing, at this time as soon as the year 2060, we could potentially lose our beach," she said. 

There's more at risk than just homes in Del Mar. At the top of one 50-foot bluff, more than four million commuters a year ride rails situated precariously close to the edge.

Vigliotti then pulled into the city of Ventura, about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Along the coast, there's an area where the surf ate away at a bike path. So officials dumped multiple rocks on the shoreline, ripped up the path, and moved it back 60 feet. Just this took over 25 years and about $5 million, and there were no homes involved — it was just a bike path.

When homes get involved, private neighborhood groups build seawalls, but those come with a big downside, says UC Santa Barbara's Charles Lester.

"When you build a sea wall and try to stop that erosion, you're gonna lose your beach over the long-term," Lester said. "So the choice we're facing in a lot of places is, sea walls and no beach or something else."

Up the coast near San Simeon, where erosion averages five feet a year, Vigliotti literally reached the end of the road. So the state has chosen to do "something else."

"We're talking about a realignment of Route One," Jim Shivers said. "About 2.8 miles that we moved inland about 475 feet."

The price tag to move a world-famous highway? $55 million. 

Mother Nature was also loud and clear up the coast in Pacifica, just south of San Francisco. So far, at least nine homes and three cliffside apartment buildings have been condemned or demolished. Lester recognizes it is a long-term problem for California. 

"All of the struggles we've had with erosion are gonna be exacerbated over the next 20, 50, 100 years," he said.

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