Princess Street easement documents filed: Coastal Commission seeks ‘accepting agency’ to maintain beach access path in La Jolla

Melinda Merryweather stands at the closed beach access, for which easement documents have been filed.
Melinda Merryweather stands at the closed beach access, for which easement documents have been filed.
(Light File)

While a big chapter has come to close in the decades-long battle for a public access lane off Princess Street to the beach below, another is just opening.

Attorney Sherman Stacey (who represents Ure Kretowicz and his wife Diane, owners of the home next to the lane) confirmed that easement documents were filed with the City of San Diego California Coastal Commission (CCC) that note there is a public access lane adjacent the property that will be part of the property record going forward. However, it could be years before that access lane is open to the public.

City Senior Public Information Officer Paul Brencick reported, “There were three separate easements (noted and filed): an open space easement; a view corridor easement; and a lifeguard vertical emergency access easement deed of declarations and restrictions. The CCC took the lead on this project and approved the easements on June 14, 2016. The City recorded the approved easements on June 27, 2016.”

From here, the CCC reports it must locate an agency that will build and maintain the beach-access lane.

“There are many steps to go before actually opening a stairway to the beach and this may take years,” said CCC Public Information Officer Noaki Schwartz. “This includes developing a construction plan, which involves locating funding to hire experts to design a bluff face stairway and then applying for a Coastal Development Permit to the City for the actual construction, finding the money to build the stairway, and then manage and operate it. The City has declined to take this on, and so we are meeting with various interested parties to discuss the roles and responsibilities a nonprofit would have should it decide to move forward with this project.”

Longtime beach-access advocate Melinda Merryweather, who fought for “almost 22 years” to open the access lane, said she is thrilled that the documents have been filed and is working on her own to find an acceptable agency. “I’ve never been prouder of helping accomplish anything than I am of this, since protecting beach accesses in La Jolla is something I’m honored to do,” she said. “(Myself and others who want this lane open) are reaching out to different groups that can adopt it and maintain it. I can’t wait for someone to step up so it can be opened again.”

Kretowicz has been involved in litigation to keep the access closed since 1999, arguing it would be too dangerous for the public to access the beach through the since-eroded bluffside and that the requirement to open the easement is “unfair.”

Historically, the route leading down from the Kretowicz’s property has been available for lifeguards, Scripps Institution oceanographers and the general public. It was closed off in the 1970s when then-property owner Jane Baker built her home. (A sealed gate alongside the property currently blocks the beach access route.) Since the property was built, the CCC has requested a public access easement be dedicated. Subsequent property owners, including the Kretowiczs, have not complied with the request.

Kretowicz, who purchased the home at foreclosure in 1993, previously told La Jolla Light he thought the Coastal Commission position had been “unfair” in its request for an easement. He said more than 30 years ago the former homeowner was asked to give an easement, but no enforcement action was taken when the homeowner declined.

In November and February 2014, it was determined the CCC may enforce a condition of the development permit it issued for the property in 1979, which requires the owner record an easement to restore public access to the coastline below.

According to court documents, in September 2015, the Kretowiczes filed a verified petition for writ of mandate and a complaint against CCC, in part, challenging the CCC’s decisions to require the Kretowiczes to irrevocably dedicate public access easements. But CCC found there was a history of public access at the site, warranting Commission protection. The trial court denied the Kretowiczes’ petition, as well as their request for declaratory relief.

“We had challenged the conditions in court, unsuccessfully, and we agreed if we had not succeeded we would record (the easement),” attorney Stacey said.