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32 households isolated by Big Sur slide


Published: December 28, 2012

A SERIES of storms that soaked the Monterey Peninsula this week caused havoc along the Big Sur coast, temporarily closing Highway 1, stranding motorists, and turning one neighborhood into a virtual island.

The worst damage along the coast occurred Sunday afternoon just north of Partington Creek, where a rock slide dumped massive boulders on the highway and took out part of a private road leading to a Partington Ridge neighborhood where about 100 people live.

The slide happened about 32 miles south of Carmel and about five miles south of Big Sur Valley, where most of Big Sur’s accommodations and restaurants are located.

For the first time in four days, motorists traveling along Highway 1 were permitted Dec. 27 to drive through the slide area as one lane was opened. But for the residents of Partington Ridge — who live in one of the most slide-prone neighborhoods imaginable — it’s unclear when they’ll be able to use their private road again, in large part because a chunk of it just landed on the highway.

A walk on the wild slide

Repairing Partington Ridge Road won’t be easy. The road provides the only automobile access to more than 30 households ranging in elevation from 400 feet to 2,100 feet, but it’s unclear how stable the hillside supporting it is. A large rocky outcropping looms above the slide, and residents worry more rocks will continue to fall, making repairs to the private road difficult and dangerous.

The size of several rocks that landed on Highway 1 surprised even longtime locals.

“There are boulders as big as Volkswagens,” reported jazz pianist Dick Whittington, a longtime resident who isn’t quite sure how he’ll make it to his next gig Saturday night at Cypress Inn.

With professional and personal commitments pending, some residents resigned themselves to lacing up their hiking boots and trudging down the ridge on foot. Magnus Toren — the executive director of the Henry Miller Library — journeyed down to his workplace Thursday so he could feed the library’s cat.

Toren has seen many slides in Big Sur over the past three decades, and he doesn’t believe there’s an easy fix to this one.

“This is about much more than just repairing the highway,” Toren suggested. “Part of the mountain has fallen down.”

Coming up with plan

It appears help is on the way. Toren said he has been in touch with Congressman Sam Farr, State Senator Bill Monning and Supervisor Dave Potter. In fact, he reported that Farr personally called him twice Wednesday.

Potter called The Pine Cone office Thursday afternoon and said he’s been in contact with Monterey County’s chief administrative officer, Lew Bauman, and a plan is emerging, but it’s too early for details. “We want to make it happen,” he said.

But he cautioned residents that the weather could slow down efforts to fix Partington Ridge Road.

“Hopefully, this isn’t a dress rehearsal for things to come,” he added. “Events like this are inevitable on the coast.”

Trapped between slides

As is so often the case in Big Sur, the volatile combination of rock, dirt, gravity and rain caused this week’s combination of mud slides and rock slides. And Big Sur has been getting drenched. Over a three-day span starting Dec. 21, nearly six inches of rain were recorded at the Big Creek Reserve.

The slide near Partington Ridge was just one of several that plagued motorists and residents this week. In some cases, drivers discovered access was blocked in both directions. Big Sur resident Kate Novoa posted on her blog ( that more than 40 tourists slept in the their cars Saturday night near Lucia.

Yet some residents managed to find humor in a challenging situation. While one longtime local initially brushed aside worries about being stranded between two slides, he expressed special concern when he realized he was unable to reach Esalen’s famous hot baths. “Call out the National Guard,” he posted on Facebook. “We got us an emergency.”