Privates Beach visitors now charged $5 daily fee

By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel

PLEASURE POINT >> Contrary to what was discussed at an Opal Cliffs Recreation District meeting Tuesday, a gate ambassador at Privates Beach began collecting a $5 daily fee from visitors on Wednesday.

The Recreation District manages the locked gate at Opal Cliffs Park and access to the beach between The Hook and Capitola. A California Coastal Commission enforcement supervisor said in June that the fence and locked gate must come down because it violates the Coastal Act’s mandate to “maximum access” to beaches. Anyone can buy a $100 key for one year of access.

Mark Massara, an attorney for the Recreation District, said leaders of the recreation district decided to start the daily fee after the meeting. Massara also said he spoke to county leaders about it.

“We wanted to do something immediate to address their (Coastal Commission) concerns while we continue to collaborate with the interested parties,” Massara said Wednesday. “We’ve determined that it’s better to do this given that it’s been discussed for many years and rather than and lose the opportunity to provide daily low-cost access this summer.”

Massara had said at a Recreation District meeting at Opal Cliffs Park on Tuesday morning that it would not start to collect a daily fee because that would constitute a “coastal development” as it is broadly defined by the Coastal Commission enforcement staff.

The daily fee will be collected through Labor Day, Massara said. The annual keys, costing $100, will continue to work.

Massara said the gate ambassador will collect the daily fee in cash or preferably by check for security reasons. Gate ambassadors are there 9 a.m to 6 p.m. daily.

The $5 daily fee was first proposed by the Recreation District to the Coastal Commission in 2009. The Coastal Commission considered it that year then tabled the proposal.

Coastal Commission Enforcement Supervisor Pat Veesart said Wednesday that he had not heard of the new daily fee until contacted by the Sentinel.

“We told him quite clearly that this (daily fee) requires a coastal development permit from the county,” Veesart said. “That permit is appealable by the Coastal Commission. We’ll see what to do next.”

Veesart had threatened the district with daily fines of more than $11,000 if the fence remained. He has said since then that the district will not be fined as long as talks continue.

Because Santa Cruz County leaders manage the recreation district as well as other recreation districts, Massara said he spoke to Santa Cruz County Auditor-Controller Edith Driscoll, County Administrative Officer Susan Mauriello, a county attorney and Director of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services Jeff Gaffney about the daily fee.

However, Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said a county permit was not issued for the daily fee.

“We are involved as a facilitator to try to help those two sides reach an agreement on what to do about access to Privates. Nothing has been finalized yet,” Hoppin said Wednesday.

Massara announced the new daily fee during an appearance on KSCO-AM 1080’s Off The Lip radio show Tuesday night. He was a guest at the radio station’s Live Oak studio.

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