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Hoards Descend on Quiet Beach : Coastline: Unlimited access to shore leads to never-ending string of nuisances for some Carlsbad residents.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beachfront residents in Carlsbad are trying to stop a nightly tide of party animals, loiterers and other no-gooders that they say ebbs and flows between their bluffside residences and a pristine strand below.

If fighting a tide of beachgoers is hard enough, these folks are tackling state law as well.

They’re losing.

The residents, with the city’s backing, want to install four clock-activated gates to limit overnight access to the half-mile stretch of beach alongside Ocean Street, between Oak Avenue and the Buena Vista Lagoon. Who’d be offended, they ask, by closing the access paths from 10 at night until 5 the next morning? Sunbathing or surfing wouldn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda at those hours.

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But the California Coastal Commission, charged with protecting public access to the state’s coastline, last month rejected the request.

Beach access is a precious commodity--day or night--the commission ruled. What about grunion hunters? Couples enjoying midnight strolls? Authors with writer’s block? Access to the beach is held as a 24-hour-a-day expectation.

Now, the city is appealing the decision, to the same commissioners who said no the first time around. The question will go to the commission for a rehearing in October.

Some residents say it will be another two months of hell.

“There are robberies, rapes, lewd acts, vandalism--everything you can think of happens here at night,” one homeowner said, “and we want it stopped.” She asked not to be identified because she fears retribution by her very targets.

“We have no sense of privacy at night,” she said. “There’s none of the relaxation we’re supposed to enjoy here.”

Privacy was no problem on the beachfront several years ago. Because of storm erosion, the strand was cobbled with stones and hardly a magnet for the typical beachgoing crowd.

But when neighboring Oceanside succeeded in replenishing its own ravaged beaches with an infusion of new sand, much of the material washed down onto Carlsbad’s North Beach. The local residents frolicked with joy.

Here was, for all intents and purposes, a privately owned beach. Above the mean high tide line, the land belonged to the apartment, condominium and home owners; below it, the beach belonged to the State Lands Commission. The beach was neither a city nor state park, with no fire pits, no concessionaires, not even a lifeguard.

With the new sand, word got out soon enough that this no-man’s beach had evolved into a coastal jewel. Soon they came: surfers, body boarders, sunbathers of all ages, who’d park on the neighborhood streets and walk down through half a dozen access paths to the strand.

Residents cringed but tolerated the daytime intrusions.

Nighttime visitors were a different breed, though, according to complaints to City Hall, which offered a sympathetic ear.

“The residents were understanding to the people going down to their beach,” said David Bradstreet, director of Carlsbad’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “Some people put up ropes to try to keep the beachgoers off their own property, but others seemed to accommodate them. They tried to be tolerant. They just asked: ‘Don’t leave your bottles or trash and graffiti behind.’ ”

There is precedent for access paths being locked overnight.

Years earlier, the Coastal Commission had allowed one locked gate to be installed, at homeowners’ expense, to stop the flow of overnight traffic on one of the access paths.

“There were residential windows literally alongside the access, and the commission recognized the concern of the homeowners,” said Paul Webb, a planner in the Coastal Commission’s San Diego office. No one liked strangers walking past bedroom windows at 3 in the morning.

“But one of the reasons the commission allowed that one gate was because there were other access paths to the beach,” he said. Now, the residents want to block the four other accesses as well during the overnight hours, and Webb said the Coastal Commission won’t be baited into closing the other accesses as well.

“To put impediments on those access ways would be in conflict with the state’s Coastal Act policies,” Webb said. “Clearly this is a beach that is widely used by the public, and the public has the right to have access to it.”

The city argues that since it’s neither a city or state beach park, and because the upper side of the beach is private property, the public shouldn’t expect access to it. The Coastal Commission says that beach ownership isn’t the issue; at some point, along that imaginary mean high tide line, the public owns the beach and should have access to it.

Webb said he is sympathetic to residents who complain about unruly behavior--or worse--among beachgoers beneath the morning stars.

“But those are law enforcement issues,” he said. Don’t call us, call the cops.

Carlsbad Police Lt. Michael Shipley said the North Beach area has not been troublesome for the police. “We receive very few calls there. When we do, it’s because of an occasional loud party or a fire on the beach. But I wouldn’t say we have a crime problem. If it’s occurring, it’s not being reported to us.”

Not everyone along Ocean Street wants lockable gates along the access paths.

“We originally wanted gates that could be locked off at night, because all the beach boys have their little parties,” said Doris Block, who with her husband, Jack, manages The Mooring apartment complex. “It sounded like a good idea.”

But when the builder of a nearby condominium building temporarily blocked off one of the access paths because of the construction, late-night traffic instead traipsed through her apartment building, Block said.

“The kids started taking other shortcuts, including through our property,” she said. “They don’t mind telling you that they’re not about to walk down the street to an access farther away when they can darn well climb a fence.

“Having that access closed showed us what will happen. People will take the next closest path of least resistance, even if that means through private property,” she said.

“We got a full blast of what would happen if the normal accesses were cut off at night. So now we’re having second thoughts about those gates. I don’t think I want those accesses closed off anymore.”


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