Santa Cruz’s Privates Beach coastal access dispute winds down

By JESSICA A. YORK | | Santa Cruz Sentinel

PUBLISHED: November 30, 2018 at 4:56 pm | UPDATED: November 30, 2018 at 5:07 pm

LIVE OAK “” Once asserting that it did not need new permission to keep the small “Privates” beach locked and privately accessible, the Opal Cliffs Recreation District agreed this week to maintain free daily coastal access, with a scaled back security gate in place by summer.

The well-maintained beach courtyard with stairway beach access, located off Opal Cliffs Drive between Pleasure Point and Capitola, has been open during the daytime for most of the past two years’ dispute. Previously, users were able to purchase a keycard at a local surf shop for about $100 a year. Fees were used to fund such things as the recreation district’s property maintenance, stairway upkeep and gate attendants.

Coastal Commission enforcement supervisor Pat Veersart, who has been overseeing the Opal Cliffs Recreation District debate for years, said he was cautiously optimistic about the remaining process, and looks forward to the district’s follow-through in applying to Santa Cruz County for a coastal development permit by Jan. 15. Privates, said Veesart, features the only public park in the state charging for coastal access “” meaning the case carries statewide implications.

“I think the district has come a long ways and the county has come a long ways. I think we’re very close to actually resolving an issue that’s been a problem for quite some time and I think that ultimately it’s the public that’s going to benefit from this,” Veesart said. “I’m really quite pleased.”

If enacted, a written agreement between the recreation district, the California Coastal Commission and the Santa Cruz County Planning Department would put to rest a decade-old coastal public access dispute that came to a head in June 2016. Then, after the Coastal Commission challenged county permit approvals given last year, the district opted to withdraw its application to align park infrastructure to Coastal Act provisions in July.


Mark Massara, attorney and spokesman for the recreation district, said Friday that the district is looking forward to a “collaborative process” with Santa Cruz County and the Coastal Commission staff, primarily in finding sources of future park funding.

“We can’t engage in any agreement that requires us to fund the park with no revenue,” Massara said. “That would be fiscally irresponsible and illegal for a public district to do that.”

“You’ve got to understand, we’ve been operating this park for 60 years,” Massara added. “We have a proven track record of being able to raise money and maintain the park. They’re introducing a new way of operating the park, which will involve no income whatsoever. So suddenly it becomes very important that everyone put their heads together about how the park is going to be funded.”

Immediate required changes at the Privates gate include tying the existing fence’s magnetized gate door open, removing existing signage and permission to install a new donation box. The district coastal permit application is to include changes such as replacement of the existing 9-foot magnetic locking gate with something 6 feet or lower, and finding a way to allow park egress during overnight locked-gate hours.