It was three up, three down, for separate unsuccessful appeals before the California Coastal Commission last week involving an extended weekend closure of the Great Highway in San Francisco, a coastal access project in Half Moon Bay and an overnight ban on recreational vehicles in the city of Santa Cruz. 

The appeals for the limited Great Highway closure and coastal access project at Half Moon Bay’s Wavecrest Beach were both rejected unanimously.

The overnight RV ban in Santa Cruz had one opponent, Commissioner Meagan Harmon, who said the policy wasn’t consistent with the Commission’s commitment to environmental justice because it she said it limited coastal access to a certain class of people. Other potential holdouts were won over by a last-minute change that shortened the proposed five-year extension of the pilot program to a two-year term.

“I continue to have, as I did last year, grave misgivings about this program,” Harmon said.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Justin Cummings, who is the area representative on the Coastal Commission, said he had doubts about several aspects of the ban, which limits camping in the vehicles from midnight to 6 a.m. It requires RV users to obtain a physical permit from the county building for a 72-hour overnight stay in the city, up to four times a year.

Cummings also noted the lack of data supporting the extension of the pilot, which had only been enforced for six, non-summer months. After asking if the city would consider modifying the proposal to a shorter, two-year extension, Cummings and at least two other commissioners said they were satisfied and voted to deny the appeal from the ACLU of Northern California and other appellants who challenged the ban on the grounds that it limited access to the coast and targeted unhoused people.

Some said the ban, which is effective from midnight to 6 a.m., would also limit access for the disabled, but the city said there were exemptions for vehicles with valid handicapped parking placards or plates. 

Extension sparks contention

Appellants of the Great Highway closure objected to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department extending a weekend and holiday closure of the coastal highway for five years. The highway has been closed on weekends and holidays since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the city in March 2020. While those closures were not approved by the Coastal Commission, Thursday’s vote affirmed that the city can keep the program going for another five years. 

The closures are meant to facilitate beach and highway improvements and increase pedestrian access to the beach, while also allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to use the four lanes of highway for recreation.

But opponents of the closure said the increased, unguided foot traffic is having detrimental impacts on Ocean Beach’s sand dunes and its federally protected snowy plover habitat. Some also objected to limiting vehicle traffic on the highway.

The Coastal Commission’s staff disagreed, saying that the work being done would improve beach erosion overall and that the Lower Great Highway, immediately inland, was adequate for alternative traffic. The Commission did not address concerns about the snowy plover. 

Parking lot dispute

The Wavecrest Beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., in September 2018. (Pedro Borges Cali via Pagransen)

The Half Moon Bay coastal access project was opposed by the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter and the San Mateo Land Exchange, who brought the appeal to the Coastal Commission after losing a 2-2 tie in March when they appealed the city planning commission’s approval to the City Council. 

The project will connect two segments of the coastal rail trail with a new 2.8-mile trail. Two wooden staircases will be built at existing beach access points, along with two parking lots and a bathroom at the end of Redondo Beach Road. Bike racks and a water fountain will also be installed. 

The San Mateo Land Exchange contended that the two new parking lots would result in a net loss of parking spaces because the project will eliminate an existing informal parking area. It also said proposed signage was poor and would limit coastal access and that the bathroom and parking lots would have more impact on the area if kept open overnight.