By Dave Schwab
La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees are urging that both emergency and public access to the cobblestone beach at the base of the home at 7957 Princess Street be restored.
The advisory group, which makes land-use recommendations to the city, on Feb. 3 unanimously backed a motion by Trustee Devin Burstein to endorse restoring emergency lifeguard access, as well as full historic public access to the beach below Ure and Dianne Kretowicz's home.
The action was to have been heard Thursday when the California Coastal Commission meets at the at Chula Vista Council Chambers, however the item was pulled from the agenda at the Kretowicz’s request, according to planning board member Tim Lucas, who was preparing a letter for commissioners. He said a commission staff member told him the item was not likely to be heard until June.
The action came as a prelude to a Feb. 10 California Coastal Commission hearing at Chula Vista Council Chambers, where commissioners will consider Ure and Dianne Kretowicz's request to amend a permit for an addition to their home.
Kretowicz has been involved for years in a lawsuit he filed against the Coastal Commission in an effort not to dedicate a public access easement along his property. He also wants improvements and modifications made to the residence he now owns to be "grandfathered in."
“A requirement for an easement wasn’t on my property title,” Kretowicz has said. “I question what is historic access. A prescriptive easement was never granted. We have never agreed to granting a public easement.”
In ongoing negotiations with the commission, Kretowicz has proposed that the commission delete a requirement that he dedicate both vertical and lateral public access along his property in exchange for his paying $3.3 million to fund various public coastal access projects elsewhere as mitigation.
The argument being presented by several longtime La Jollans is that a 5-foot-wide vertical easement along one side of the Kretowicz residence ought to be officially dedicated allowing public, as well as emergency, access from the Princess blufftop cul-de-sac down to the shoreline.
Melinda Merryweather, a longtime member of La Jolla Town Council’s Parks & Beaches Committee who’s mapped beach access for the La Jolla Community Plan, contends Princess Street has historically provided public access to the beach all the way back to Native American times. She contends it should be restored “because we need to keep, improve, preserve and create new beach access.”
She said in an e-mail last week that she would like to see stairs similar to those at Swami's in Encinitas built to lead to the rocky beach, where people are able to walk and enjoy the tidepools at low tide.
On Feb. 3 at the request of planning association president Joe LaCava, Burnstein’s motion also included incorporating a request for an easement and public access through the Kretowicz property to the beach into La Jolla’s Community Plan. The motion also stipulated that, should the Coastal Commission grant the Kretowicz’s request to move the beach-access easement elsewhere, that it should be somewhere along La Jolla’s coastline.
Trustee Dan Courtney cautioned the group against making a hasty decision on an issue involving private property rights.
“It’s a big difference allowing lifeguards emergency access with a key and a locked gate and allowing a public easement through someone’s private property where anybody can come down all the time,” he said. “We need to establish what type of legal access has been established in the past.”
Trustee Ray Weiss disagreed.
“Letting the lifeguards go to the beach during emergencies is not public access,” he said. “Public access is public access. People have been going down there for years and the fact is public access has been encroached upon. The idea of selling public access is also something I find unacceptable.”
Lucas, speaking at last week's meeting, noted the city Parks Recretion Department a decade ago said they were unwilling to accept an easement across the Princess Street Beach property because they did not have the money to develop or maintain it.
“The Coastal Commission is still reluctant to grant the easement if the city isn’t going to accept it,” he said. “The nice thing about it is the city would have up to 21 years to find the money to develop this site if we restore the public beach access — it’s a doable thing.”
Also at the meeting, Erin Demorest of District 1 Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s office said the city is exploring the viability of restoring public beach access at Princess Street.