Smithcliffs Park public pathway dedicated

Barbara Diamond

A winding public pathway leading to the ocean was formally dedicated

in North Laguna Tuesday, the culmination of years of wrangling.

"Nothing is easy in Laguna," Mayor Toni Iseman said. "I thank

everyone who made sure we did this right."

The linear park adjacent to the gated Smithcliffs homes was

required as a condition of development by the county and the

California Coastal Commission. At some point it was blocked off from

the public, raising the hackles of a group of residents who worked to

get it reopened.

"This is really wonderful," said Ann Weisbrod at the dedication.

Weisbrod was the first to bring the blocked access to the

attention of the City Council, and she served on the Smithcliffs

Citizen Advisory Committee, which worked out a settlement with the

Smithcliffs homeowners to reopen and preserve the park.

The mayor, Councilman Wayne Baglin, City Manager Ken Frank,

planner Kathy Lottes, and Parks and Building Manager Vic Hillstead

represented the city.

Eric Jessen, chief of Harbors Beaches and Parks spoke on behalf of

the county, giving a brief history of the 10-acre estate next to the

park and Pancho Barnes, the colorful stunt-flying granddaughter of

the Smiths for whom the estate was named.

Paige Ramos, 9, was the youngest person in the crowd. She is the

granddaughter of Ulla Hengstebeck.

Hengstebeck was among the residents who attended City Council

meetings with Weisbrod to prod action on the shuttered little park.

"We are so happy the park is open to the public," Hengstebeck


"I come here to the lovely place to meditate," Margo Harrod said.

"I am so pleased that my friend Ann [Weisbrod] told me about it."

The small bluff-top viewpoint and an access path was carved out of

the old Smithcliffs estate when the 10.4-acre site was approved for

development in 1991. Acquisition by the city in April 2002 conformed

to the city's general plan, the Planning Commission determined.

Exactly when Smithcliffs residents blocked the path to the public is


The residents said that the gate to the pathway was welded shut

and the pathway partially removed to prevent loitering, littering and

possible burglaries.

Weisbrod, a longtime supporter of environmental causes, including

public access to beaches, felt betrayed and angry when she discovered

the gate.

"Can you imagine how [Greenbelt founder] Jim Dilley would feel

about this?" Weisbrod asked. "It is wrong to close off public access

to the place where the seals are so close you can see their faces and

their eyes."

Weisbrod's complaints to the council led to the formation of a

citizen's committee that hammered out an agreement with the

Smithcliffs homeowners to restore and maintain the meandering pathway

and plantings along its sides, designed by Robert Mueting, who

attended the dedication.

The park is closed at dark by police and opened in the mornings by

the Public Works Department.

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