New Beach makeover: How San Mateo County plans to transform Tunitas Creek Beach into a visitor-friendly beachfront park

New Beach makeover: How San Mateo County plans to transform Tunitas Creek Beach into a visitor-friendly beachfront park

Tunitas Creek Beach, situated along the bluffs between Half Moon Bay and San Gregorio on San Mateo County’s coastside, will soon undergo a public-access makeover, if a county parks department-led initiative moves forward as planned.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in February approved plans to add a walking path to the beach, restrooms, a ranger residence, a parking lot, and, midway down the bluff, a flexible space with tiered seating that could be used for people to gather for picnics or educational events.

Now the project’s leaders are moving forward with securing environmental documents and permits with plans to begin construction as soon as summer 2022, said representatives from the San Mateo County Parks Department and the Peninsula Open Space Trust at a recent informational event. Those agencies have worked closely with each other and with the community to develop and move the plans forward.

Construction is estimated to cost about $7 million and require $1 million in ongoing operations.

A key part of the project is a pedestrian route from the parking area off of State Route 1 to the beach, which currently would also include a roughly 1,300-foot ADA-accessible pedestrian path to the middle portion of the bluff.

As planned, the pedestrian path will continue all the way to the beach, but it won’t be able to offer fully ADA-compliant wheelchair access, said Taylor Jang, stewardship project manager at the Peninsula Open Space Trust.


As a child, he sneaked onto a secret Malibu beach. 50 years later, the fence finally came down

As a child, he sneaked onto a secret Malibu beach. 50 years later, the fence finally came down

The signs went up about a half-century ago, but they spring to memory like yesterday. On a white background, in vivid red lettering: “Danger” and “KEEP OUT.”

An unseen hand mounted the warnings around the top and sides of the wide concrete tunnel, an underpass built to allow tiny Coal Creek to flow under Pacific Coast Highway and into Santa Monica Bay. The subtext couldn’t have been clearer: “Stay Off Our Beach.”

That’s not the kind of message anyone wants to read. It was especially unwelcome to us, kids lucky enough to grow up in the sunbaked hills on the other side of the coast highway, in Malibu.

Half a dozen years before the California Coastal Act of 1976 made it official, something primal already assured us that access to the beach should be welcomed, not off-limits like some tycoon’s yacht. So, with a wicked old chain-link fence blocking direct access to the shore, we ignored the signs and plunged under PCH.


Sonoma County Regional Parks adds another open space jewel along the coast

Sonoma County Regional Parks adds another open space jewel along the coast

The hearty cheer came through the fog late Monday morning, startling Misti Arias and a handful of cows grazing nearby.

Arias, the general manager of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District was making her way down a fire road on Wright Hill Ranch, high above Highway 1, when a group of 15 or so hikers, coming up the road, shouted in unison, upon seeing her: “Thank you, Ag and Open Space!”

Those grateful hikers were employees of the county’s Regional Parks department. Their cheerful greeting captured the strong, highly productive working relationship shared by the agencies. Later this month, Regional Parks will take over this 1,236-acre coastal property, purchased by the taxpayer-supported open space district in 2007.

Wright Hill Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, as it will be known, won’t be fully operational for another 3 to 5 years, estimated Bert Whitaker, the county’s regional parks director, who joined Arias on Monday morning’s fog-shrouded walkabout.

Inhabited by Coastal Pomo tribes before it was purchased by the Wright family in 1863, the land was most recently owned by the Poff family, who sold it to the open space district 14 years ago for $5.6 million.

The district intended to transfer the land to California State Parks. That plan was abandoned when the Great Recession ushered in a budget crunch. As it has in other collaborations with the open space district, the county’s regional parks department stepped into the void.

“When it became clear that State Parks was not going to be able to work with Ag and Open Space for places like this property, for Carrington Ranch, for Calabazas Creek, that was when the parks in Sonoma County started rising to the occasion,” said Whitaker.

Over the last three decades, the open space district has transferred 7,871 acres of land to county parks — just over half of the department’s total acreage. Nearly 4,400 of those acres have been transferred in the last 3 years alone, leading to the creation of five new parks and open spaces.

The Wright Hill Ranch is different from most of his department’s other holdings, said Whitaker.

“It’s a large coastal preserve, not super accessible,” he noted. While he and Arias had reached the ranch via Wright Hill Road, a gravel byway 3.5 miles south of Jenner off Highway 1, the public will not have access to that route. The most efficient way to access the new preserve will be from the north. Hikers can park at the Pomo Canyon Environmental Campground, off Willow Creek Road, and hike up the Pomo Canyon Trail.

While that ascent is a bit “aggressive” for the first mile or so, Whitaker allowed, the payoff — after rising through thick, second generation redwood stands, then the grasslands above — is a dramatic view of the Pacific.

After emerging from a cathedral-like grove of bay and oak, Whitaker pointed south, extolling the “majestic perspectives” of Mount Tamalpais, some 60 miles distant. That he and Arias could barely make out the half dozen bovines grazing a hillside 50 yards away, so thick was the fog, made the moment only a little less dramatic.


Rising temperatures, and the ongoing, extreme drought, have made need for such acquisitions more urgent, said Arias.

While the climate is changing, “we can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen, where it’s going to get dry, where it’s going to get hot,” she said.

Scientists have emphasized to Arias and her staff the importance of protecting a wide variety of lands — “a diversity of microclimates, topographies, and habitats,” she said — to make sure wildlife have ample room for migration and adaptation, in response to warming temperatures, rising sea levels and other changes.

“The more available open land,” she said, “the better.”

First California Coastal Trail Map Will Help Complete the 1,230-Mile-Long Trail

First California Coastal Trail Map Will Help Complete the 1,230-Mile-Long Trail

SAN FRANCISCO _ The Coastal Commission and Coastal Conservancy released a digital map that for the first time shows the existing sections of the California Coastal Trail, a three-year project that will be critical to completing the rest of the trail.

“What a milestone,” said Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth. “There are currently 875 miles of trail and now we can finally see exactly where they are, so we can eventually bridge those gaps and finish the trail.”

The California Coastal Trail, which has been in the planning since 1975, is a network of trails that will eventually allow the public to traverse the length of California’s 1,230-mile-long coast. The varied trail is not a single pathway but a collection of parallel threads and is about 70 percent complete. The trail takes participants through beaches, along blufftops and hillsides, on footpaths, sidewalks and separated bicycle paths maximizing scenic coastal views. Portions of the trail are accessible on foot, bicycle, wheelchair users and on horsebacks as well.

“The California Coastal Trail is one of the only flagship trails in the country that is accessible to almost everyone,” said Coastal Conservancy Executive Officer Sam Schuchat. “Many Californians have walked a segment or two without even realizing it!  With this map, people can find trail segments easily, as well as public access points to get to the shore.”

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New Park and Open Space Preserve Coming to Sonoma Coast Ag + Open Space Transfers 335 Acres of Protected Land to Regional Parks

New Park and Open Space Preserve Coming to Sonoma Coast Ag + Open Space Transfers 335 Acres of Protected Land to Regional Parks

Santa Rosa, CA  –  December 30, 2020  –  The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space), a special district dedicated to protecting our working and natural lands forever, transferred ownership of a 335-acre coastal property to Sonoma County Regional Parks. This land, known as Carrington Coast Ranch, will eventually open to the public as a regional park and open space preserve just north of Salmon Creek.

“This project has been a long time in the making, so it is extraordinary to see the vision become reality and soon our community will be able to enjoy the rolling grasslands and beautiful vistas that make this property such a gem,” said Sonoma County 5th District Supervisor and Ag + Open Space Director Lynda Hopkins. “The conservation of our working and natural lands, including this new park and preserve, provides so many benefits to Sonoma County’s diverse communities. These include addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation, offering a place for all people to enjoy nature, and showcasing stunning scenic landscapes that define our region.”

Ag + Open Space purchased Carrington Coast Ranch in 2003 for $4.8 million. At the time, it was anticipated that the property would be transferred to and operated by California State Parks. However, due to budgetary constraints, State Parks was unable to accept title to the property. Ag + Open Space then began to work with Regional Parks on a potential park and open space preserve that would protect the ranch’s scenic and natural resources, while also providing for public recreation.

Carrington Coast Ranch hosts a diversity of natural habitats, including coastal prairie, coastal scrub, freshwater and saltwater wetlands, and tidal marsh. Several special-status species, such as the Townsend big-eared bat, California red-legged frog, and American badger have been identified on the property. The ranch is primarily open grassland, which affords spectacular views of the ocean, and sequesters carbon to help mitigate the effects of climate change, ensuring this area will adapt to sea level rise. The future park and open space preserve will provide a critical segment of the 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail and link to public lands to the north and south. (more…)