A stretch of homes perched atop a Gleason Beach cliff looks more like a disaster zone than beach-front property.|

A stretch of homes perched atop a Gleason Beach cliff looks more like a

disaster zone than beach-front property.

Chunks of rooftop lie scattered across a muddy hillside. Cinder blocks

dangle from metal rods. Ocean waves rip though gaping holes in concrete

foundations. Cyclone fences keep passers-by locked out.

Less than three years ago, the 6000 block of Highway 1, four miles north of

Bodega Bay, was a posh piece of land inhabited mostly by seasonal residents.

Times have changed.

El Nino's torrential storms caused the sea to eat away at an already

eroding hillside. Since the February 1998 rains, two homes have been

demolished and one has been moved. Another home perilously teeters atop land

that looks as though it could give way at any minute.

''It's a sad situation,'' said Gleason Beach resident Bill Bishop.

During El Nino's rains, Bishop's home was yellow-tagged by emergency

officials, indicating it was unsafe to live in and that only restricted entry

was allowed.

Even then, Bishop was one of the lucky ones.

While a handful of his neighbors' homes are now nonexistent, his still


''I spent a fortune on this thing last year,'' he said.

Emergency officials over the years have monitored the homes, giving

residents the choice to either pump thousands of dollars into construction

efforts or give up altogether.

''It's a natural process,'' said Eric Mays, a Sonoma County construction

inspection supervisor. ''Either they continue to spend a great deal of money,

or they redesign their foundations or, like some, they simply walk away.''

Most of the demolished homes and the handful that still stand are part of a

strip of about 20 houses built right at the edge of a cliff, mostly 40 and 50

years ago.

Many of the properties are worth as much as $500,000 each.

''It's a nice house. We like coming here,'' said Steve Hutton, whose family

has owned a Gleason Beach house for nearly 20 years.

Despite the fact that their home has required hundreds of thousands of

dollars in foundation repairs, the location makes it worth it, he said.

''It's kind of nice here in the winter when it rains,'' Hutton said.

Just last week, Hutton arrived at the house to notice that ocean waves

caused by recent storms had pounded a giant hole in a newly built retaining

wall that separates water from the hillside.

He said repair workers will be called to pour yet another batch of


''They spent quite a bit of money repairing there,'' he said.

Experts say the constant problems Gleason Beach residents face are not

likely to disappear.

Inevitably, Mays said, nature will take its course as the hill continues to


''Heavy rainfall exacerbates the problem,'' he said. ''I would think that

it would make anyone nervous who is in the area. Especially the public safety

people, who are more alert during this time of year.''

Bishop says had he known that the Bodega Bay home he bought five years ago

could potentially slip down a disappearing hillside, he never would have

considered it.

Now, however, he's stuck.

''I'm upside down on this property tremendously,'' he said. ''Until this

type of thing gets repaired, you can't sell.''

You can reach Staff Writer Cecilia M. Vega at 521-5213 or e-mail

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