Coastal Commission to expand park at Rockview, police public access restrictions at Pleasure Point

February 7, 2019 at 5:00 pm

HALF MOON BAY “” The California Coastal Commission centered the bulk of its regulatory focus on Pleasure Point during its first meeting of 2019.

The state agency approved an emergency permit for the seawall at the end of Rockview Drive in 2016, when erosion threatened the viability of six residences poised above the longstanding wall to the immediate west of Pleasure Point, while enumerating the litany of public access violations undertaken by private property owners seeking to choke the public parking supply by forging no parking signs and planting hedges.

Regarding the seawall, the staff granted a long-term permit to the county and six residences perched on top of the longstanding wall, staving off a possible collapse, but also said the seawall offered an imperfect solution.

“The seawall will continue to have impacts,” said Dan Carl, the Central Coast district director for the coastal commission. “It causes additional beach erosion in the area, but that’s why we got together with the county and came up with a series of improvements to offset those impacts.”

Those improvements will center on Rockview Drive County Park, a modest park and overlook near Pleasure Point, and will entail the construction of a staircase that will offer surfers and other visitors better access to the rocky shelf and beach just below.

The coastal commission typically takes a dim view of seawalls in general, saying they do more harm than good to the coastal values enshrined in the Coastal Act of 1976. Specifically, while a seawall may protect private property from the encroaching ocean, due to a process called passive erosion, where the shoreline migrants landward, public beaches are eroded at a greater speed and in many cases eventually lost.

But Carl, the coastal commission and the County of Santa Cruz, said that the harm to those public access values created by the seawall can be offset by increasing access and enhancing the park on top of the seawall, by installing more benches, picnic tables, bicycle racks and interpretative signage.

If the commission were to allow the seawall to erode, not only would the owners of the six residences likely lose their homes, but the public would also lose a popular recreational spot in the Pleasure Point area, Carl said.

“Rockview is a public/private partnership in place for more than 30 years and represents a unique example in our network of coastal access points,” said Jeff Gaffney, Santa Cruz County parks directer. “This agreement assures the County can maintain this facility and make modest upgrades so that it remains a public asset for decades to come. “

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on Jan. 29 that agreed to set aside anywhere from $277,000 to $340,000 into a separate fund that will go toward the construction of the staircase and ongoing maintenance and repairs.

The money comes entirely from the owners of the six properties atop the seawall, said Jason Hoppin, spokesperson for Santa Cruz County.

Bogus no parking signs

Rockview Drive was not the only focus regarding public access in the Pleasure Point area for the commission.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the enforcement staff documented a persistent problem of residents in proximity to Pleasure Point choking off public parking spots by putting up bogus no parking signs and placing other impediments in places where members of the public can park.

“The amount of violations we saw in the area were impacting the public parking supply,” said Christine Chestnut, an officer with the commission’s coastal division.

Homeowners routinely placed homemade “˜no parking’ signs, some of which are fashioned to resemble officially issued signs, in front of their homes in an attempt to cordon off public spaces for their personal use. In one case, a homeowner near Pleasure Point planted boxed hedges in spaces traditionally reserved for the public.

While the commission has historically attempted to enforce the public access protection provisions of the Coastal Act, including protections for public parking near coastal recreation areas, staff said a new enforcement tool that allows the commission to fine violators $11,000 per day has made enforcement more effective and expeditious.

“The administrative penalty gives violators an incentive to work with us to resolve the matter quickly and deter future violations,” said Lisa Haage, the chief enforcement officer for the coastal commission.

Prior to 2014, the commission had to take individual property owners to court or rely on their good faith compliance when violations arose. But the California Legislature passed a law vesting the commission with more robust fining authority and the results speak for themselves, Haage said.

Before 2014, it used to take an average of three years for the commission to resolve violations, now it takes an average of about four months. Also, because violators can avoid fines by voluntarily resolving the matters, most of those charged with violations choose to effect an amicable resolution. Of the 175 violations of public access rules since 2014, 75 percent of them have been resolved without issue, Haage said.

Nevertheless, property owners attempt to limit public access to aspects of the coast continues to be a problem up and down the state and Santa Cruz appears to be particularly rife with the practice, according to the commission.

“This type of violation remains a problem around Pleasure Point,” Chestnut said.