Public Access Coming to Grand Canal

Byline: Taylor Hill

Public Access Coming to Grand Canal

NEWPORT BEACH — A new public pier platform and staircase leading to Balboa Island’s Grand Canal was approved by the California Coastal Commission at its Jan. 11 meeting, bringing the first public access point to the narrow channel that divides Balboa and Little Balboa islands.

The 5- by 10-foot platform will be built at the end of Balboa Avenue, alongside the private platforms and staircases that lead to homes facing the canal.

Newport Beach Harbor Resources manager Chris Miller said he hopes construction can get started in the next month or two, and he doesn’t expect the project to cost more than $5,000.

“The city wanted to get this in there to create public access to the canal,” Miller said.

Unlike many of the waterfront homes in Newport Harbor, homeowners of residences along the Grand Canal do not have the ability to build private slips in the narrow channel. But the city has allowed construction of platforms and staircases leading to private moorings, where smaller vessels are permitted.

The canal is lined with these private staircases that make access to the water easier, since the island’s protective seawalls form a steep drop-off to the sand below. Of the 78 houses along the canal, 75 have some form of staircase — none of which has been open for public access.

In July 2011, the Coastal Commission was presented with a request from a Balboa Island homeowner to construct a new platform at one of the three houses without an existing staircase. Coastal Commission staff members raised concerns about the lack of public access in the area, despite the five public piers and the public walkway at the island.

Staff members wanted the homeowners to create a new public access point, if they were going to create another private one in the canal. Before a decision was made, the city of Newport Beach stepped in, sending a letter to the Coastal Commission informing members of its plans to construct a public access point at Balboa Avenue.

With the promise of a new staircase for the public, the Coastal Commission approved the private staircase at the October meeting.

“There currently is no direct access to and from Balboa Island at the Grand Canal, or to the Grand Canal itself,” the staff report stated. “The proposed project will provide safe public access to the Grand Canal and boating-related access to visitors to Balboa Island via kayak, paddleboard and small boat.”

The deck platform and six steps will be built of pressure-treated Douglas fir, composite decking and stainless steel hardware. Before construction can begin, Newport Beach’s Harbor Resources Department must get approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for the work involving the minimum-size pilings and the minimum number of pilings necessary for structural stability.

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