Judge clears way to reopen La Jolla beach access at Princess Street

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Melinda Merryweather (left) and a Princess Street resident, who declined to state her name, debate the merits of reopening public beach access near her home. “I think it’s a disaster,” the woman said. “We have watched so much cliff (erode) in that area. It’s gone — and there’s nothing but rocks down there. It’s an absolute dangerous place.” Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

A once-popular beach access point at the foot of Princess Street that has been blocked for decades by private development could soon be restored and open to the public — a victory for La Jolla beach access advocates, and a headache for the property owners and their neighbors, who only wish to allow emergency access to lifeguards.

On Nov. 18, a San Diego County Superior Court judge ruled that the California Coastal Commission (CCC) may enforce a condition of the development permit it issued for the  home in 1979, which requires that the property owner record an easement to restore public access to the beach.

A path on the property, which had been accessible to the public since 1932, was closed off in 1978 when then property owner Jane Baker built her home on top of it while the original development permit was being challenged in court.

The original permit did not include a stipulation requiring that public access be maintained. While the legal challenge to it was pending, Baker completed her home.

Baker never signed the revised permit requiring public access, nor reopened the path, though she “nonetheless

accepted its terms by completing the construction of her home,” the court ruled this month.

A handful of subsequent property owners, including current owners, Ure and Diane Kretowicz, who purchased the home at foreclosure in 1994, also did not comply with the public access condition.

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Melinda Merryweather stands at a bluff-top gate that for nearly 35 years has blocked access to the shoreline below. There, she and her grandmother once took a path up from the shore after exploring the tide pools or walking from Scripps Pier.

The Kretowiczes have been involved in litigation with the CCC over the easement condition since 1999. Settlement negotiations between the Kretowiczes and the CCC have broken down through the years. These include the Kretowiczes’ offer to provide alternate public access by paying more than $3 million to rebuild a stairway on bluffs near Coast Walk that burned down in the early 1960s.

“There were a variety of proposals … to either provide alternative access or to delay opening of the accessway across the Kretowicz property,” CCC Supervising Staff Counsel Chris Pederson said. “Either the commission thought the proposal for alternative access wasn’t equivalent or Kretowicz balked at providing alternative access that the commission thought was sufficient.

“In the last proposal, there had been an offer regarding a potentially significant delay in the opening of the access and the commission decided that that wasn’t appropriate — especially given the long delays associated with opening the access from the past several decades.”

The Nov. 18 court ruling dismissed the Kretowiczes’ argument that the statute of limitations had run out to enforce the easement condition, stating that, “The passage of time will not legalize ongoing and continuing violations of permit conditions.”

The Kretowiczes also argued that the CCC can not enforce the public access condition because it has not, until recently, attempted to enforce it. However, the court found that “the mere failure to enforce the law … will not (prohibit) the government from subsequently enforcing it.”

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The coastline below Princess Street, looking south toward La Jolla Cove.

Pederson said he is not sure why it took the CCC several decades to pursue enforcement of the beach access condition.

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