Supporters seek city's help on beach access

City officials took no action on a request to urge the California Coastal Commission to revisit public access to the coast through private property in Rockledge.

Folks who used to cross the property to access the beach want the city to help them regain what they consider their right, which was lost when the City Council approved development on the lot and the commission didn't take action.

The request was submitted at the July 12 council meeting by Eric Jessen, retired chief of the county's Harbors, Beaches and Parks division, and was backed by a petition signed by people who favor public coastal access.

"Lagunans have always had access to Rockledge, and much of it is going to be lost due to the proposed development at 2425 South Coast Hwy.," said Jessen, a longtime South Laguna resident. "In addition, a number of people have filled out affidavits testifying to their use of a route across the property at 2425 South Coast [Hwy.], and there are photographs to document this."

Councilman Kelly Boyd called it trespassing. Boyd and Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly, an attorney, concurred that access had not been formalized.

Resident Fred Talarico said the public traditionally has prescriptive rights across property along the coast, and 1,500 signatures were gathered in support of a study of beach access.

Prescriptive rights refer to public rights acquired over private land through use, according to a Coastal Commission fact sheet.

"A right of access acquired through use is, essentially, an easement over real property that comes into being without the explicit consent of the owner," according to the commission.

The use must continue for five years to qualify in California as a public prescriptive easement; be substantial, rather than minimal and continual, though not necessarily continuous; and be without significant objection or bona fide attempts by the owner to stop the trespass.

"We approached your honorable council on this matter when you considered the proposed development at 2425 South Coast [Hwy.]," Jessen said. "The city attorney suggested that the public coastal access issue would be better addressed at the Coastal Commission, so you took no action on that aspect of the project."

The council's approval of the development was appealed to the Coastal Commission.

Talarico told the council that the commission withdrew the appeal without making access supporters aware, leaving them without a voice in the decision.

The commission's decision on its jurisdiction was based on taking no action within the mandated time period to hear appeals, City Attorney Philip Kohn said. He will do some research and report back to the council.

Jessen said the commission staff admitted it had erred and had lost jurisdiction.

"I got involved in this because my staff and I implemented the county's Comprehensive Coastal Access Plan, which resulted in building the 1,000 Steps stairway, the Table Rock Cove stairway, reconstruction of the West Street Beach stairway, and establishing unimproved public beach easements at the foot of Fifth Avenue and Seacove Drive in South Laguna," Jessen said.

He asked the council to take emergency action — justification for action on an item not on the agenda — and direct the city manager to contact the commission and ask them to rectify the error.

Jessen also asked the council to direct city staff to help examine the possibility of prescriptive rights across the property at 2425 South Coast Hwy.

No action was taken by the council, which will not meet again until Aug. 16.

For more information about prescriptive rights, email or call Linda Locklin at (831) 427-4875.

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