Your View: History says Princess Street wall should come down

The beach trail below Princess Street. Photo: Audrey D. Keane

By Tony Ciani

La Jolla resident

The Coastal Commission’s July 14 unanimous decision to protect the public’s access from the foot of Princess Street to the La Jolla Underwater Park and State Marine Reserve reinforced its prior decisions dating back to 1979. At that time, a four-year study by the City Park and Recreation Board conducted from 1970 to 1974, recommended the path to the small public pocket beach at Princess Street should be open to the public. A street sign located at the head of the trail in the 1970s, identified this point as one of the entrances to the Underwater Park and State Marine Reserve.

La Jollans and visitors to La Jolla documented their historical use of an ancient trail to the beach with letters and photographs. State and local agencies and organizations helped to establish the public’s long use of the path. The testimony from the late ‘70s includes letters from swimmers, skin divers and the scientific community, and is summarized in two letters to the Coastal Commission by the then, City of San Diego Park and Recreation’s Aquatic Director, George Loveland, and Dorothy Muth, who headed the City’s Park and Recreation Board’s access study:

“The general public use of Princess Street Point and the subject property has been noted to exist for a long time and for access to a variety of recreational activities there and at the adjacent shoreline, e.g., access to the pocket beach for sunbathers, and swimmers, skin divers, and surfers, and for people observing the marine life…” The point itself has also served as a scenic overlook for sightseers.”(Loveland: 3/20/79)

“Therefore, the above subject public access at Princess Street has had over 10 years of study, research and recommendations … Every study and every report/recommendation has firmly stated that Princess Street access of vital importance for retention.” (Muth: 3/23/79)

The California Constitution and California Coastal Act protect the public’s prescriptive rights of access where acquired through the public’s historical use, and in 1979 the Coastal Commission unanimously determined this historic trail qualified under those laws, and required an offer-to-dedicate (OTD) an access easement as a condition of approval for a permit to allow the property owner permission to build their house.

While the property owners got what they wanted and finished their house in 1980, they failed to honor the commission’s decision and record the OTD, but instead, constructed a fence and walls to block off the public’s access to the historic trail. The property owners’ have received the beneficial use of their property, but the public’s rights went unprotected. The unpermitted fences have interfered with public’s access to one of La Jolla’s most important natural resources for the last 32 years.

A similar situation exists on the same property today, except the current owner, Mr. Kretowicz, a prominent California home builder, apparently constructed even more improvements to the property, as well as, in the public right of way on Princess Street (without obtaining necessary coastal permits). Despite warnings from the city and Coastal Commission over the last 10 years, he reportedly proceeded to build more and more improvements without the necessary permits. Once again, the community groups and organizations rallied in support of preserving the beach trail at Princess Street.

Recently, Mr. Kretowicz applied for an amendment to the original 1979 coastal permit to approve his unpermitted construction “after-the-fact”; and, requested to delay the offer to dedicate the easement until 15 years after his and his wife’s death. However, the Commission’s decision this month granting him even more development rights requires the OTD be recorded prior to issuance of the Coastal Permit Amendment.

I hope Mr. Kretowicz will honor the commission’s past and recent decisions, as well as, the community’s long-standing public access rights, by recording the offer to dedicate an easement for the public’s use and enjoyment now, not many years later.

Mr. Kretowicz, tear down that wall!