SD Environmental Center to manage La Jolla's Princess Street access project

The beach access route at the end of Princess Street is one step closer to being re-opened after nearly 40 years, it was announced at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches (LJP&B) meeting June 26. Answering the call for an organization to assume responsibility for the access-way, the Environmental Center of San Diego offered to dedicate and maintain the work to re-open the beach access route.

“We are a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment throughout San Diego, including keeping access-ways to the ocean open,” Environmental Center of San Diego board member Pam Heatherington said. “At the end of last year, we were contacted about Princess Street being open to an offer to dedicate by a non-profit or government agency that would one day allow the access to be re-opened. … Now we are working with the homeowner to get on the property, get a survey done, and design something simple and in sync with nature to get us access to the beach from Princess Street.” She could not say when the trail might be reopened, but in a “perfect world” Heatherington told the Light, it would take two years.

The Environmental Center of San Diego’s efforts reportedly have the support of WindanSea Surf Club, Surfrider Foundation of San Diego, California Coastal Commission, State of California Coastal Conservancy and La Jolla Shores Association. At a future meeting, LJP&B will vote on whether to also support the group’s efforts.

Heatherington later told the Light the next step is to survey the area, which could cost $1,000-$2,000. “If we wait until August (to conduct the survey), we can get funding from the Coastal Conservancy, but if we want to do something before that, we can pay for the survey ourselves. Or someone could donate the money for the survey,” Heatherington said.

Without a specific date, she said she would like to have the survey done this fall. From there, Environmental Center of San Diego would decide on a firm to design the trail, which could include stairs, rails, ropes or other safety features.

“We’re going to try to get a few designs and get input from the public,” she told the Light.

At the LJP&B meeting, she explained, “We will be working with the lifeguards and representatives from Native American tribes (to identify artifacts that we need to be mindful of) in the opening of this pathway and we would like to bring in the California Native Plant Society to identify native plants we should keep. We are not going to do this in a vacuum, we are going to work with other organizations.”

LJP&B member Patrick Ahern expressed concern about the installation of ropes and/or stairs that would interfere with the natural environment.

But Heatherington said, “We want to keep it as natural as safely possible. It needs to be safe, and we won’t open it back up unless it’s safe, but we want it to be natural.”

However, LJP&B member Sally Miller encouraged Heatherington to continue with the work.

“It took (beach access advocate) Melinda Merryweather more than 30 years to get to this point and I don’t want to see the ball drop now that we’re here,” she said.

Merryweather, who was unable to attend the meeting, has fought for the path to be reopened and said she was “thrilled” at the Environmental Center of San Diego stepping up.

“They are an amazing organization and (the Friends of WindanSea) might raise some money to help with the survey or other small projects,” she said.

“It’s so important to get this access opened because when the surf is big, that is a great place to enter the beach.

“And if you walk around the beach at the Marine Room, and head over to that area to see the amazing beach and the tide comes in, there is no way to get out unless you are a really strong swimmer.”

Merryweather also reflected on the “time, money, minds and lawyers” involved in the litigation thus far, and said she was glad that “we’ll finally have it back.”

Decades of closure

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, the California Coastal Commission has requested a public access easement be dedicated.

Subsequent property owners, including current property owners Ure and Diane Kretowicz (who bought the house in 1993), have not complied with the request.

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.

According to court documents, in September 2015, the Kretowiczs filed a verified petition for writ of mandate and a complaint against the California Coastal Commission, in part, challenging its decisions to require the Kretowiczs irrevocably dedicate public access easements.

But the Commission found there was a history of public access at the site and the trial court denied the Kretowiczs’ petition, as well as their request for declaratory relief.

Attorney Sherman Stacey, representing the homeowners, confirmed that easement documents were filed with the City of San Diego and California Coastal Commission that note there is a public access lane adjacent the property that will be part of the property record going forward.

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