Neighbors battling to keep beach gated
Posted: Wednesday, Jul 20th, 2016

Coastal Commission: Fence, fees not permitted

OPAL CLIFFS “” Residents of a Pleasure Point neighborhood are still fighting to keep a fence that restricts public access to a small park and a small stretch of beach, even as the California Coastal Commission demands they remove it.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the Opal Cliffs Recreation District says the gate is permitted and in fact helps keep the park and beach safe and clean.

Members of the district, which oversees access to the small, gated Pleasure Point beach, have long contended that they have a permit for the fence.

They charge $100 per year for a gate, and recently began charging a $5 daily use fee.

But the Coastal Commission says none of that is permitted.

“They are just doing what they want to do,” said California Coastal Commission enforcement supervisor Pat Veesart. “They need a permit for the gate, the fee and the guard and they have not gotten any of them.”

Veesart said that the district has applied for a costal development permit to the Santa Cruz County Development Department for the $5 fee, but that the permit has not been approved.

“The fence needs to come down,” Veesart said.

The Coastal Commission set a date of June 30 to have the fence removed and said the Opal Cliffs Recreation District faced fines of more than $11,000 a day if the gate did not come down.

That fee was tabled while talks were going on, bur Veesart said those talks have ceased.

“Penalties are on the table, so we’re going to have to discuss what our next steps will be,” he said.

Veesart said a six-foot fence was approved in 1981, but that permit has since expired and has not been renewed.

In addition, the district put up a nine-foot wrought-iron fence without authorization.

That is not true, according to Opal Cliffs Recreation District attorney Mark Massara.

Such permits don’t expire, and there is no legal precedent in which they have, Massara said.

“They don’t acknowledge that they have already approved this,” he said.

Soon after the commission ordered the district to remove the fence, members put up a sign stating that the decision would “destroy” Opal Cliffs Park, and urging members to petition lawmakers.

Hundreds of residents have signed a petition demanding that the commission allow the fence to remain.

Neighbors deny the gate is exclusionary, and point out that anyone can buy a key to the gate at a nearby surf shop, or pay the daily $5 fee.

Many say they like the gate because it gives a level of security not available at other beaches. Others claim the beach is clean and free of graffiti and leftover party trash thanks to the fence.

Approximately 700 people currently purchase annual passes, Massara said.

“I have never run into anyone who says, “˜this is too expensive. I want you to rip out this fence,'” Massara said.

Massara described the OCRD as an all-volunteer, legally authorized special district, “whose mission is to maximize public beach access to the park and beach.”

“By all accounts they are doing a marvelous job,” he said. “That beach is one of the most well-kept safe and beautiful beaches along the coast of California.”

The Coastal Commission authorized a Coastal Development Permit in 1992 authorizing the fence, gate and keycard program, Massara said.

Santa Cruz County approved the fence and keycard program in 2008, and the OCRD brought the issue to the California Coastal Commission for additional review as a courtesy, he said.

Commission staffers then reviewed it and recommended approval, but a hearing never occurred, Massara said.

Massara said that removing the fence would remove OCRD’s only revenue stream, thus forcing the district to dissolve.

That, he said, would place maintenance and upkeep costs in the lap of the county, which he said cannot afford such a responsibility.

The district is already reeling from the ongoing legal battle, he said.

“These trivial concerns are costing the district tens of thousands of dollars they don’t have,” he said.

He also said that removing the fence would decrease safety in the area.

He pointed to Sunny Cove Beach, which he said has no gate or maintenance and has become a high-crime area.

In a June 17 letter, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart urged the California Coastal Commission to reconsider its decision, saying that removing the fence would “”¦facilitate increased criminal activity, parking and traffic control problems, reduce public safety in the adjacent neighborhood,” among other things.

“That’s a good example of what you can expect if this goes away,” Massara said.