Beach access at Camel Point under investigation

A sign on the gate at Camel Point Drive and Coast Highway gives no hint that the public has access to the beach through the gated community.

However, OC Parks officials are investigating the lack of coastal access signage — brought to their attention by Laguna Beach resident Roger Carter — which they said could inhibit the public.

"I went to the county because the beaches, stairs and access ways in South Laguna belong to the county," Carter said. "There is no [beach access] sign on the metal pedestrian gate and a metal vehicle gate on Coast Highway."

There is a coastal access sign about 300 or 400 feet from the highway, which cannot be seen unless a pedestrian walks down the roadway, Carter said. There is also a sign on a wooden gate at the other end of Camel Point Drive.

The beach at Camel Point can be reached by an access point at 31351 Coast Hwy., but a sign is not posted and hasn't been posted for a long time, according to Carter.

The city was contacted about the lack of signage at Camel Point Drive after an initial investigation by the county, identified as Case No. 26451.

Carter was advised by County Customer Relations Manager Marie Moreno that a supervising park ranger would contact the city to clarify jurisdiction and work together to post access signs.

However, City Public Works Director Steve May informed the county that the city is not a player in the complaint.

"Camel Point Drive is a private street, and the city does not maintain it or post any coastal access signs on private streets or on Coast Highway, which is maintained by Caltrans," May said.

The issue of blocked coastal access was also raised recently by South Laguna resident Eric Jessen, retired chief of OC Parks. He asked the city to help restore jurisdiction to the California Coastal Commission over access across privately owned land at Rockledge, which he said was open to the public by prescriptive rights.

Prescriptive rights are those acquired over private land through use.

Jessen reported that the commission had lost jurisdiction by not taking action on the access within the prescribed time.

A granddaughter of Robert and Sarah Bunkall, who owned the property until their deaths, claimed public access was never permitted.

"I grew up at this property, and it was never a route for public access to the beach," Sarah Phillips e-mailed the Coastline Pilot from Arizona. "There was always a sign that said no trespassing posted at the entrance to the driveway. But inevitably people would wander down. And those people were always told that it was private property.

"The Coastal Commission may have made an error in not acting, but even if they had, I truly believe the decision would have been in favor of the new property owner. There is no history of this being a public access point to the beach. It has always been private property."

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