A long-sought beach access at Princess Street in La Jolla got one step closer by a vote of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) during its Oct. 11 meeting at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside hotel – albeit with some conditions.
The CCC was tasked with reviewing a request from 7957 Princess St. homeowner Ure Kretowicz to 1) amend a permit to remodel and add to his existing single-family home; 2) record vertical and lateral public-access easements on the property title; 3) replace existing paving on the public street-ending with decorative tile pavers; and 4) add signage identifying public access.
The easements and signage would assist in the creation of a planned beach-access trail at that location, but would also allow for the installation of decorative tiles (there is currently decorative concrete that is different from the asphalt the City uses to create streets, which some argue already gives the impression the cul-de-sac is private) that could possibly discourage people from using it.
Many of the speakers who offered public comment emphasized the importance of clarifying that the cul-de-sac is a public right of way and not a private driveway.
During staff reports, CCC coastal program analyst Alex Llerandi explained: “Over the years, various (unpermitted) private encroachments such as the planting of a Torrey Pine tree … have diminished the area of the cul-de-sac,” he said. “Because of the visually obscure location and the narrow side of Princess Street, staff recommend signage at the end of the sidewalk informing the public that the cul-de-sac is public property.”
La Jolla Community Planning Association secretary Cindy Greatrex spoke on behalf of the community advisory group that wrote a letter against the decorative pavers. “Our Development Permit Review sub-committee determined the applicant’s modifications … have resulted in the perceived privatization of the street,” she said. “La Jolla Community Planning Association applauds the Commission’s decision to protect and enhance the public’s access to the California coastline. Restoration of the public right-of-way adjacent the (Kretowicz) property is a crucial element of that statewide goal.”
CCC deputy director Karl Schwing encouraged the commission to “focus on what we have in front of us” and said the package of requests would ultimately be beneficial because there would signage indicating it is “more public right-of-way than private driveway.”
All said, the CCC voted 10-1 to approve the collective item.
With the approval, the Environmental Center of San Diego got a vote of confidence to proceed with its plan to create a beach-access trail at that location.
“We’re encouraged that the California Coastal Commission reinforced their interest in the path, that’s a positive,” said spokesperson Pam Heatherington. “It’s always nice to hear the (CCC) supports your project, especially when we have to present to them to request a Coastal Development Permit when we have a design.”
She added she was further encouraged by the CCC requirement of clear signage. “Our biggest concern was the safety factor, we didn’t want it to be not obvious that there is a trail there. I think we got that. This project was a long time coming and now we’re ready to roll.”
The Environmental Center of San Diego will manage the project to evaluate the site and install a safe and natural-looking trail. Thus far, the Center has surveyed the bluffside, completed a biological assessment to determine the potential impacts to local species, and is prepared to cut back on some brush and complete a topographical survey.
After receiving a $38,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, the Center also contracted Rana Creek Living to create design plans. Once the design plans are complete, the Center will fundraise to execute the work.
Prior to the vote, at least six nearby residents signed and submitted a letter outlining their opposition to the planned, public beach-access trail. They cited issues with parking and safety, and said the bluffside into which the trail would be built was unstable and not suitable for public access.
However, the beach access advocates who have sought to reopen the access for decades prevailed.
As previously reported in the Light, the access has been closed by way of a gate that has been posted and locked since the 1970s, when former property owner Jane Baker built her house. Since that time, CCC has requested a public access easement be dedicated.
In 1999, the Kretowiczs entered into litigation, arguing it would be too dangerous for the public to access the beach through the since-eroded bluffside.
But the CCC found there was a history of public access at the site, and easement documents were filed with the City of San Diego and the CCC that note there is a public-access lane adjacent the property that will be part of the property record going forward.
Most vocally involved in reopening the access is La Jollan Melinda Merryweather. After the vote, she told La Jolla Light, “I am pleased with the hearing we got half of what we wanted,” referring to the easements and signage. ”I am so pleased we have our access back to an amazing beach for all to enjoy, it has been a group effort for over 26 years, which has taught me to never give up. And I am forever grateful to the California Coastal Commission for all the years they have fought beside us to get this beach access back.”