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In November 2017, we protected 58 acres at Tunitas Creek Beach, just a few miles south of Half Moon Bay. The beach had become a popular place for overnight raves, parties and campouts. Quite simply, it was being loved to death.
We protected this beach to save it from further abuse and make it available for everyone to safely enjoy. After acquiring the property, we transferred its management to San Mateo County Parks. With their leadership, we are in the process of preparing Tunitas Creek Beach to be opened as a new County Park—a process we hope to complete within three years.
And things are moving along! To keep you in the loop with our progress, we caught up with Scott Lombardi, San Mateo County Parks Superintendent and one of the lead managers for the project, to ask him a few questions about the status of this work.
POST: What is your role in the management of the Tunitas Creek Beach project?
Scott Lombardi: As San Mateo County Parks Superintendent, I am leading the operational planning and logistics for the location. Our focus is always on visitor education and the protection of resources.
Q: What has San Mateo County Parks been working on since the beach was protected last November?
A: Yeah, we’ve been busy. Our first priority was safety for the public. You’d be surprised by some of the trails folks were using to get down to this beach. They were very dangerous and also causing pretty severe erosion. Installing signs discouraging the use of those trails was the first priority for us.
We also began enforcing San Mateo County Ordinance No. 4778. This basically says no camping, no fires, no littering and no dogs. The enforcement of this ordinance is as much about protecting the public as it is about protecting the beach and the wildlife that live there.
Another big milestone was receiving our Coastal Development Permit in May, which allows us to start construction of this new park. The first thing we will be working on is a stable path down to the beach for emergency vehicles—it’s a prerequisite for the rest of our work.
There will be a gate installed at the bottom of the path to prevent unauthorized use of the road—we don’t want people using this path to get down to the beach quite yet. So, folks can expect to see construction equipment and that gate installed in the next month. We’re excited to get started!
Q: Why will it take three years to get this beach ready for public access? That seems like a long time.
A: Great question. And to clarify, our goal is to open this new park to the public in three years, but that’s really just the first phase of our work. It’s going to take a lot longer for us to finish everything we have planned.
But to answer your question, each new park is little different. Tunitas Creek Beach has no facilities. There’s not a safe place to park and the beach is only accessible right now by a dangerous trail.
None of this is safe and it’s certainly not environmentally sensitive. So, those are the biggest things that need to be corrected and it takes time to plan that work, get permits and do a good job. Three years might seem long to most people, but that’s how much time we need to get the job done right.
Q: Does it always take that long to open a new county park?
A: You know, it really depends on the site. Some places are better equipped from the start than others. It can be faster but, in general, this timeline (three years) is pretty quick.
Typically, we start with what we call a “master plan” for a new park. This outlines our vision, and we then use that document to guide our planning and construction.
Since ongoing public use of Tunitas Creek Beach is having such severe impacts and the area to develop the site is fairly constrained, we’re expediting this first phase to develop safe and sustainable access. We’ve started planning the improvements needed for this first phase, and at the same time, we’re working on plans to get input from the community that will inform our master plan for the property.
That’s not normal for us—we’re really moving as fast as we can.
Q: Where can folks learn more about responsible use of this beach?
A: I would say that it’s going to be a lot safer and more enjoyable to visit once we’ve finished our work. But for those out there who just can’t wait, they should read the County ordinance so they know what acceptable use of the beach looks like at this time.
Q: Will dogs be allowed on the beach?
A: At this time, the ordinance for the beach states that dogs are not allowed. The beach is a nesting site for the threatened western snowy plover, a really cute migratory bird. Dogs can make it hard on these birds during nesting season. Given this, a study will need to be conducted before a decision to change the ordinance can be made, and there is a plan for that study in the works.
Also, in the coming months, we will start the planning process for long-term public access and will seek the community’s input. That will be a great time for questions and comments like these to be posed to our planning team. Folks who are interested in that should sign up for our email alerts on our website.
At POST, we’re right there with you, anticipating a day of R&R at this incredible local landmark. This work could not be accomplished without the ongoing support of individuals with the shared goal of a gorgeous beach, open to all.
In only six months, over 60 community members have helped us raise more than $1 million in support of the Tunitas Creek Beach project, following a generous $1.625 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to kick off the campaign. Every donation is important to keep our efforts on track and the project moving ahead as quickly as possible. Please consider making a gift today.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 76,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.