In 1985, when Jane and Ray Pittsinger rented a house at 548 Esplanade Avenue in Pacifica, they had a 30-foot-deep backyard that fronted on the cliffs, a staircase down to the beach, and the most amazing views of the Pacific they’d ever seen.
“We contemplated trying to buy the house, but it would have been folly,” Jane says. Over the years, their amazing view became more and more intimate as wind, rain, and waves ate back the hillside. “If we had 30 feet [to the cliff] when we moved in,” she says, “we had 12 or 15 feet at the beginning of 1998.”
Record El Niño storms took care of the rest. By February, the couple’s backyard deck sat right on the cliff edge. “We started to look for somewhere to rent,” says Ray, “and we moved stuff from the back of the house to the front.”
And none too soon. “One morning, I went out to the deck to see how high the waves were coming,” says Jane. “They were really crashing into the cliff. I caught this movement out of the corner of my eye. And I knew what it was: It was the deck bending. I stepped back, onto my neighbor’s land, and it just peeled off. It was completely silent because of the roar of the ocean.”
City officials ordered residents son the block to evacuate. The Pittsingers had eight hours to pack up all their things and get out—with help from countless friends and neighbors. “Friends, neighbors, everybody started coming and helping us,” Jane says. “They just packed up everything; every scrap and every rag was packed up by other people.”
Though two houses remain on their block, the Pittsingers’ home isn’t one of them. “The house was hanging on by a couple of boards after they red-tagged it,” says Ray. “Then they cut those boards, and the whole thing just went over.”
The Pittsingers, who now live a good two blocks from the coast, don’t regret the years they spent on the rim of the Pacific. “We had the whole Pacific Ocean in front of us—we watched dolphins and whales so many times,” Jane says. “There was a lot of connection with wildlife, much more than you’d expect on the edge of such a large city.”