Residents speak out against Princess St. beach access: Say planned path would destabilize already unstable bluff

A group of Princess Street residents are speaking out against the creation of a beach-access path at the foot of their street, ahead of a California Coastal Commission (CCC) vote related to the matter. In the days before the Oct. 11 vote at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside hotel (beyond La Jolla Light deadline), at least six residents signed and submitted a letter outlining their opposition to the planned, public beach-access trail.

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.

Should the CCC approve the complex package of requests, the vertical and lateral public-access easements and associated signage would pave the way for public beach access from Princess Street down to the beach, but would also allow the tile pavers to be placed on the street, which some argue make the end of the public street look like a private driveway, thus discouraging people from using the access.

Residents of Princess Street and the nearby Spindrift Drive further argue that the bluff into which the trail would be built is too unstable for public access, and they accuse Kretowicz of carrying out unpermitted renovations that may have exacerbated the situation. They wrote the letter to ask the CCC to vote down Kretowicz’s request.

The letter claims: “The construction of the improvements that will be associated with the establishment of the proposed public access at the Kretowicz residence will further destabilize an already unstable bluff. The destabilization of the bluff that could result from the creation of the proposed public access could far exceed the destabilization of the bluff that could result from the prior unauthorized improvements and the additional improvements and modifications of Ure Kretowicz (to his home).”

The letter lists several points of contention residents have with the proposal.

Addressing parking limitations, the letter states: “The portion of Princess Street that terminates at the Kretowicz residence is only 14 feet wide. … Two automobiles cannot pass each other on this narrow portion of Princess Street. There is very limited room for parking on the portion of Princess Street and the portion of Spindrift Drive near the proposed public access.”

Addressing potential safety, it goes on to state: “The pocket beach below the Kretowicz residence is very small and very dangerous” and that “the lifeguard station at The Cove and Kellogg Beach are too distant to patrol the small pocket beach below the staircase.”

While some residents have been corresponding with the CCC opposing the public-access trail for more than 10 years, the recent California Coastal Conservancy grant of $38,000 to design the trail was the final straw.

During the California Coastal Conservancy’s Sept. 6 meeting in Eureka, the board passed a motion to disburse up to $38,860 to the Environmental Center of San Diego to conduct planning and prepare designs for the Princess Street Coastal Access Trail in La Jolla. The Environmental Center of San Diego will contribute another $2,520 to the grant.

One resident who signed onto the letter, and agreed to speak to the Light on the condition of anonymity, said: “There have been dozens of conversations about this over the years, this is not last minute opposition. But we saw it was coming to light with the Conservancy grant. There is no question that the Conservancy would have authorized the money for the plans for the trail if they had not intended to build it.”

He added: “The neighbors feel like this was a deal made in hell.”

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 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.

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