Environmental Center gets $38K for Princess St. beach-access trail design


The design phase for the Princess Street beach access project got a $38,000 boost from the California Coastal Conservancy this month, giving the Environmental Center of San Diego the green light to proceed with the next big step toward reopening the long-closed access that starts alongside 7957 Princess St. and goes down to the beach.

During the California Coastal Conservancy’s Sept. 6 meeting in Eureka, a motion for “Consideration and possible authorization to disburse up to $38,860 to Environmental Center of San Diego to conduct planning and prepare designs for the Princess Street Coastal Access Trail in La Jolla, San Diego County,” passed on the consent agenda and without discussion. The Environmental Center of San Diego, which is working to develop and reopen the access, will contribute another $2,520 to the grant.

Environmental Center of San Diego board member Pam Heatherington explained that the funding will get the group through the design phase. Carmel Valley-based Rana Creek Living has been contracted to execute the design work.

In recapping progress thus far, she said: “We did the staking survey to provide a general layout of where the trail will be, last year. A few months ago, we completed the biological assessment (to evaluate the potential effects on local species). We’re getting ready to do some brush-cutting along the staking, so we can do a topographical survey. Once the topographical survey is done, the design team comes in and gives us an idea of what we can do to make it safe, stable and natural.”

The grant will pay for the plans, but once the design is complete, the Environmental Center of San Diego would likely fundraise through community outreach to implement it. Heatherington said the design plans would likely be complete at the end of this year or early next year.

“In a perfect world, I’d like to have the trail open by end of 2019,” she said. “I’m excited that we are constantly moving forward; there is a flow that has been working for us and we hope to keep that going.”

Keeping that momentum going, the brush-cutting would begin Oct. 13 and be carried out by volunteers. Brush-cutting would be limited to six inches, to avoid erosion.

At the same time, a decision to hardscape the Princess Street-access at the top of the street will be heard at the California Coastal Commission’s (CCC) Oct. 12 meeting at the Wyndham Hotel San Diego Bayside, 1355 North Harbor Drive, downtown.

Homeowner Ure Kretowicz looks to, according to the CCC report, “replace existing private paving material currently located within a public street right-of-way in the La Jolla community of San Diego with a revised paving material (of granite porcelain tile) that includes delineation of a walkway to a public vertical access-way on the applicant’s property” and that “the proposal … raises concerns regarding privatization of this public space.”

The CCC would hear the proposal because: “Allowing public rights-of-way or public access-ways to be altered or managed by private individuals or associations can potentially deter public access and recreation in several ways. If the appearance of the public area is substantially different than the surrounding public streets, it may appear to be exclusive or under private ownership.”

The discussion was originally set to be heard in September, but because the CCC meetings rotate locations, residents advocated for having the issue presented locally so those with interest could attend and speak out.

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, the 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 CCC that note there is a public access lane adjacent the property that will be part of the property record going forward.