Santa Cruz Sheriff urges Coastal Commission to keep Privates Beach private

Updated: 2:41 PM PDT Jun 30, 2016

Amy Larson “žÃ¦ “žÃ›

KSBW.com Digital Media Manager

We don’t want Privates Beach to become the next Sunny Cove Beach.

That’s the message Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart sent to the California Coastal Commission in a letter this month after the commission ordered the county’s only private beach to become public.

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Opal Cliffs Park, called Privates Beach by locals, is nestled in a beautiful cove below a high-end neighborhood in Capitola. It is a popular spot for longboard surfers, families who live nearby, and nudists.

READ: Sheriff Hart’s letter to the Coastal Commission

A 9-foot high, locked metal fence separates surfers and sun worshipers from Privates Beach. Residents who pay an annual $100 fee to the Opal Cliffs Recreation District receive keys to enter the beach.

The commission has ordered the Opal Cliffs Recreation District to remove the gate, fence, and guard by June 30 or face a daily $11,000 fine.

Opal Cliffs residents reacted by posted a large red sign at the gate reading, “Emergency Alert. The California Coastal Commission is seeking to destroy Opal Cliffs Park.”

In a letter dated June 17, Sheriff Hart urged the commission to reverse its decision. Opening access would cause the beach’s crime rate to spike, and “create an immediate and continuing dangerous nuisance,” he said.

Unlike Pleasure Point and other beaches along East Cliff Drive, the secluded Privates Beach is difficult for deputies to patrol, because it lacks “good sight lines for effective observation,” Hart said.

“It is more akin to Sunny Cove Beach, which has become a high crime area. In the last 12 months, my office managed 605 calls for service at Sunny Cove Beach for a wide variety of criminal activity. The crime occurring in the Sunny Cove Beach area is causing serious problems for homeowners,” Hart said.

In that same time period, Privates Beach only had nine emergency calls.

Hart added, “I have lived in this community my entire life. I cannot recall there ever not having been a fence and gate at (Privates Beach).”

Patrick Veesart, enforcement supervisor with the Coastal Commission, said concerns outlined by the sheriff are the same concerns every beach town up and down California’s coast faces.

Opal Cliffs should not be given special treatment, Veesart said.

“The solution is not to wall off the coast from the public,” Veesart said. “This is a popular surf spot. This is an important beach. And it’s time to get this open to the public.”

The California Coastal Act requires maximum beach access for the public.

As of Wednesday, a deadline extension had not yet been granted to the district.

Opal Cliffs Recreation District attorney Mark Massara said clothing-optional enthusiasts and families both love the beach for the same reasons: “It’s safe, clean, and well-cared for.”

The key fee made the beach’s pristine condition possible, and Santa Cruz County does not have enough resources to ensure it will stay that way, the attorney said.

“The sheriff raises some really valid concerns,” Massara said.