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Plans to restore Princess Street beach access proceeding, with study phase to be completed by end of the year

A view from Princess Street near a beach accessway that is in the process of being restored.
A view from Princess Street near a beach accessway that is in the process of being restored.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The Environmental Center of San Diego in coming weeks will complete the study phase of a project to reestablish a beach access trail from La Jolla’s Princess Street.

Once the research is complete, work can begin on the design and construction of a path that would restore public access to a stretch of the shoreline isolated by development for decades.

Environmental Center spokeswoman Pam Heatherington told the La Jolla Light that studies relating to the site, marine hazards, tsunami risk, archaeology, marine habitats, biological impacts and other factors have been completed and she is waiting for a geotechnical report to be finalized.

“The geotechnical study will hopefully be finished by the end of the year,” she said. “It’s taking the longest, but it’s one of the most important ones. The studies will go to the design team and once they get hold of them, they will get structural engineering input for a final design.”

Heatherington also said a plan is being developed to have Native American oversight in case any artifacts are discovered during site visits.

“So far, our archaeological team didn’t find anything, but we all know it’s the Spindrift Site [which is recognized by the city of San Diego as having Kumeyaay significance because of artifacts found there] and anything is possible,” she said.

A gate blocks what was a beach accessway from Princess Street.
A gate blocks what was a beach accessway from Princess Street.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Within a month, the Environmental Center will begin fundraising for design, construction and management of the trail, Heatherington said.

“Donations are coming in slow, but we haven’t been aggressive with our fundraising,” she said. “The trail needs to be managed and monitored once it’s built, so we are hoping for an endowment that would carry into the future. We want to have that in place by the time it opens.”

In the new year, she said, work will begin to design the trail and staircase and find a contractor to build it. “There are beach access stairways up and down the coast, so we know there are people that can do that,” Heatherington said. “We just need to find the right person.”

She previously said the intent is for the trail to be natural in its appearance.

“We decided, as far as the steps go, to have four platforms so people can rest coming up and down,” she said. “We’re not going to have railings, so it is going to be less obstructive. We want it to blend in with the area.”

When the project was reviewed by local groups in recent years, many emphasized having a natural appearance.

“You always want it to go more quickly than it does, but there is a lot of excitement surrounding this project.”

— Pam Heatherington, Environmental Center of San Diego

The Princess Street Coastal Access Trail has been the subject of a 40-plus-year effort by the community and the California Coastal Commission to protect and restore the trail, which had been used since the early 1900s as a path to the beach by fishermen, divers and surfers.

Until 1979, the trail provided a point of entry to what is now known as the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park and the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. But the accessway was closed by a locked gate posted when the then-property owner built a house.

Since that time, the Coastal Commission has requested that a public access easement be dedicated, and litigation by subsequent property owners arguing against it was denied in court.

“The historic Princess Street Coastal Access Trail is a valued asset for my constituents and the surrounding ecosystem,” according to San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla. “Our beaches are precious to the community of La Jolla, and public access to them is of utmost importance.”

The project has been endorsed by San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher, the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, La Jolla Park & Beaches, Windansea Surf Club and San Diego Dive Club.

“You always want it to go more quickly than it does, but there is a lot of excitement surrounding this project,” Heatherington said.

Learn more at bit.ly/3AuyjYp. ◆