La Jolla Shores board to ask that Scripps Coastal Reserve be reopened ‘immediately’

A view from the Scripps Coastal Reserve is presented to the La Jolla Shores Association by La Jolla resident David Lebowitz.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The group votes to send a letter to UC San Diego and the California Coastal Commission opposing continued tight restrictions on public access that began with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Joining a growing list of those who would like to see the Scripps Coastal Reserve at UC San Diego reopened for full public access, the La Jolla Shores Association voted unanimously during its Sept. 13 meeting to send a letter to UCSD and the California Coastal Commission opposing the continued closure.

The motion indicated “strong opposition to the ongoing public access closure at Scripps Coastal Reserve” and signaled a request that the daily public access that was in effect before the COVID-19 pandemic “be restored immediately.”

As part of a subsequent discussion, board members suggested adding state and local representatives to the list of recipients.

La Jolla resident David Lebowitz presented an update to the board about the reserve, which was closed with the onset of pandemic-related restrictions on public gatherings in March 2020.

In January 2022, the reserve was opened to the public for volunteer maintenance from 8 to 10 a.m. Fridays or for a docent-led tour from 9 to 11 a.m. the first Saturday of each month (it previously was offered the second Saturday).

“Before the closure, it was open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to sunset,” Lebowitz said. “This is a reduction in public visitation hours of 99 percent from before the closure. It’s pretty significant. Imagine if you had to walk with a chaperone and someone talking the entire time when you are just trying to enjoy nature.”

UC San Diego has not publicly stated why the reserve remains closed although pandemic restrictions have been lifted throughout the state.

Even before the pandemic, a gate was installed in 2012 that limited access. Some wanted the Shores Association board to also ask the university to remove the gate, but LJSA President Janie Emerson said the chances of that happening are minimal, and the board decided against it.

The reserve encompasses nearly 1,000 acres adjacent to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, including an upland area called the “Knoll” or “Cliffs” and the shoreline and marine protected area below the cliffs. It is part of the University of California’s Natural Reserve System.

“It has panoramic ocean views from approximately 330 feet above Black’s Beach,” Lebowitz said. “There is a self-guided loop trail that is about a half-mile long through mainly native vegetation.”

Scripps Coastal Reserve at UC San Diego remains largely closed to the public.
Scripps Coastal Reserve at UC San Diego remains largely closed to the public. The California Coastal Commission is looking into the issue.

Under the California Coastal Act, a coastal development permit is required for a change of access to a coastal site. Thus, the Coastal Commission has been investigating the closure and is “working on getting that [permit] application in and the issue before the commission as soon as possible,” Andrew Willis, enforcement staff counsel for the commission, told the La Jolla Light in July.

The commission is still waiting for a coastal development permit application from UCSD more than three years after most public access to the reserve was cut off.

July 25, 2023

The Coastal Commission has been aware of the Scripps Coastal Reserve closure since late 2020, Willis added.

Representatives of the Coastal Commission did not respond this week to the Light’s request for more information, including a list of possible corrective actions.

In a repeat of previous statements, UCSD told the Light that “UC San Diego is working with the California Coastal Commission, and reopening options are being considered. In the meantime, the Scripps Coastal Reserve will remain closed.”

The university added that “beach access is available via Black’s Beach Way. During this time we also recommend the Coastal Meander Trail on the campus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and trails at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.”

In letters to the Light, several readers have stated they want the reserve fully reopened.

“The California Coastal Commission and UC San Diego need to resolve this issue and reopen the reserve to ensure that our cherished coastal spaces and beach access trails remain accessible for generations to come,” Asa Feinstein wrote.

“I am frankly appalled that the university has decided to close this incredible place to even its own students, and even more that it did this in violation of the California Coastal Act requirement for a permit,” wrote Phil Stedman. ◆