In May, the California Coastal Commission is poised to consider an application from Orange County Parks to amend a coastal development permit to make a Corona del Mar visitor dock for emergency use only by the sheriff’s department and modify dinghy dock tie-up hours but not all stakeholders are satisfied with the conditions of the proposed amendment.
NEWPORT BEACH—An issue of public access and authority that has been ongoing since 2019 when” Keep Out” and “Authorized Personnel Only” signage appeared on a set of public guest docks shared by the boating public and the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol in Corona del Mar has now made it to the California Coastal Commission docket. While “Keep Out” signage at the guest docks at 1901 Bayside Drive has given way to “Public Guest Docks: Please see OC Harbor Patrol for rental information” signs, some stakeholders say issues and an unwelcoming feeling persist at the harbor front site.
“Without exception, the public is made to feel like intruders – – or perhaps even having criminal tendencies,” wrote Penny Elia in comments submitted to the Coastal Commission.
OC Parks is now seeking after-the-fact approval to amend the coastal development permit to change the use of the visitor dock from a public temporary tie-up to an emergency dock for OCSD use only and to change the hours of the dinghy dock tie-up from 72 hours maximum to day-use only between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. They are also seeking to install two safety gates and fencing around the OCSD building and lifeguard headquarters.
Five guest slips at the facility would remain available for boaters to use and public parking would remain for the adjacent beach.
Readers might remember a series of Standing Watch articles published in 2019 after several changes were made at the facility by Lieutenant Christopher Corn, who has since retired from the OCSD. According to a staff report, in May 2019, the OCSD harbormaster was issued a violation letter from the Coastal Commission for putting up unapproved signage, using two public guest docks for lifeguard boat storage, changing the public dinghy tie-up hours, and changing the use of the visitor dock to emergency only.
OC Parks Public Information Officer Marisa O’Neil said in an email that after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino in 2015, the Orange County Sheriff ordered all county facilities to undertake a security and vulnerability assessment. In May of 2017, a Vulnerability Assessment and Mitigation Report of all Harbor Patrol Facilities was completed, and based on this report, the Sheriff implemented the changes.
“We believe these safety concerns must be immediately addressed,” said OCSD Harbormaster Captain Gary Lewellyn. “It would be improper to make public comment about these concerns as there is an ongoing study that the Coastal Commission is conducting about our facility. That being said, I want to ensure the public that the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol is currently partnering with the Coastal Commission to come up with reasonable solutions that would not limit access to the sand or water of Newport Beach Harbor.”
The Coastal Commission was set to consider the application at its March 10 meeting but the item was postponed. O’Neil said details of the project description were being amended based on input from stakeholders and coordination with Coastal Commission staff, with anticipated re-submittal for the May meeting.
“Given the nature of OCSD’s violations and their repeated attempts to prohibit the public from using this area that was carefully conditioned for public use nearly 25 years ago, I am not
confident that the conditions put forward in this staff report will remedy the problem for the
public, or restore the public access and amenities that were created in the original 1995 permit,” said Elia in comments submitted to the Coastal Commission.
Among Elia’s concerns is ADA access. Under the proposed amendment, the current ADA paths and ramps would be fenced off from the public and replaced with a 300-foot rubber mat on the sand.
“A 300-foot rubber mat on the sand is not the solution and should be denied when the existing ADA paths and ramp are in fact the perfect solution and should be kept open to the public,” wrote Elia.
Dorothy Klaus, whose daughter was injured in a 1992 accident and uses a wheelchair, was also concerned by plans to fence off the existing ADA ramps and paths.
“The whole world changed for us and I have a very heightened awareness about ADA access,” said Klaus.
Klaus is a longtime boater who has used the guest slips in the past. She was concerned about the public losing access to the area.
“This is a really nice public amenity,” said Klaus.
In her comments to the Coastal Commission, Elia asked the permit be a condition to improve and/or restore ADA access and parking that allows for the continued use of the existing properly engineered concrete ADA paths and ramps; improve parking; create an environmental justice program; create a signage and wayfinding program, and work with the County and the adjacent homeowners to remove all of the encroachments in the parking lot area and on the beach.