County pursuing purchase of Sunny Cove Beach to ensure access
By Kurtis Alexander

Posted: 10/21/2010 01:30:57 AM PDT

LIVE OAK — Lightiel “Daniel” Haltom remembers cutting school when he was younger to go to Sunny Cove Beach.

Whether it was the volleyball nets, the bluff tops with big views of the bay or the coastal reefs that make for good ocean-jumping, Haltom, now 28, like other residents in the area, has become very familiar with the sandy stretch at the end of 17th Avenue.

But one thing many of the regulars there don’t know is that the beach is privately owned, and public use of the property has been more about the goodwill of the owner than a guarantee.

The county is looking to change that. The owners of the roughly three-acre stretch, who bought the beach and an adjacent home a year and a half ago, say they don’t need all the land, just the house, and county officials are considering taking it off their hands.

“Although this owner does not appear to want to develop the property, as long as it stays in private ownership, an owner may choose to limit access or build there,” said county Supervisor John Leopold, who plans to bring the matter before his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors as soon as next week.

The owners, Daw and Jean Tsai, are offering to turn the property over at no cost.

“They feel as though it should be in public hands,” said attorney Charlene Atack, who is representing the Tsais.

Sunny Cove Beach, also known locally as Johan’s Beach, has long been used by the public via a number of ad-hoc trails off 17th Avenue and
Geoffroy Drive as well as a path near the end of 16th Avenue. Besides the beach, a rock shelf extending north is commonly traversed by visitors during low tide.

The property’s past owners, who can legally regulate use above the mean high-tide mark, have never exercised their discretion.

This is not the first time community leaders have looked to bring the beach into public ownership. More than a decade ago, a neighborhood effort was launched to buy the property through a tax district, though that idea never came to pass.

Leopold says the county’s latest opportunity to acquire the land should be seized.

“Here we have a chance to get it for nothing,” he said.

The county wouldn’t incur any new expenses, at least initially, officials say. Park crews already do trash collection in the public areas around the beach and sheriff deputies respond to problems there.

Future plans for the area remain uncertain.

“It’s just a great local spot,” Haltom said.