Coastal Commission wants to preserve Pirate's Cove, trash and all

Joe Tarica.
Joe Tarica.

The California Coastal Commission really got hoodwinked on the Pirate’s Cove project.

How else do you explain the panel’s rejection of the county’s plan to improve access to a gorgeous piece of property that has too long been allowed to fester in the shadows?

This week, the state body — swayed by a limited but vocal outcry and the opinions of a Pismo Beach councilman who serves on the commission — rejected much of an excellent county proposal many years in the making to pave the parking lot, build restrooms, improve the trail down to the beach and blaze another path linking the park to Pismo.

If you’re not familiar with the area, Pirate’s Cove is between Avila Beach and Shell Beach. It’s home to the county’s only nude beach, a rocky point and a bluff that offers picturesque views of the coast, all accessed from a dirt parking lot at the end of Cave Landing Road.

It’s a spectacular spot that will take your breath away at the same time it’s leaving your mouth agape at the thought of the unsavory behavior that occurs there regularly.

“On any given night … you’ll find people loitering, smoking, drinking, littering with cigarette butts and beer cans, and some of those people are waiting to be approached to engage in illicit sexual activity in public,” noted county sheriff’s Sgt. Stuart MacDonald, who pointed out that the area is “strewn with used condoms, wrappers, drug paraphernalia.”

In this county, it seems to be a behavior unique to that site, and I’d wager most local parks suffer no indignities close to this description. So I was encouraged by the county plan as much for its ability to enhance visitors’ experience as for the potential to finally eradicate these foul uses.

Improve access to the site, make it more friendly, open it to broad public use, and perhaps the park would finally emerge from its sketchy past, the shady characters driven elsewhere.

Yet the Coastal Commission decided otherwise, going against its own staff recommendations.

Apparently the commissioners don’t realize that protecting the coast does not always mean simply leaving an undeveloped area as it is, when that very undeveloped nature encourages misuse.

The commission’s answer to that problem was nothing less than a disrespectful brushing off. Install a few trash cans for those used needles, it essentially told the county, and send in more cops to bust the pervs if you must.

But what kind of a waste of taxpayer dollars is that, dispatching more deputies to chase away people looking to get their jollies by hooking up with strangers for some sex in the bushes?

Said Commissioner and Pismo Councilman Erik Howell somewhat narrow-mindedly: “It’s a very special place. If there is any development on this site, we want to make sure we get it right, and I have serious concerns.”

It sort of sounded like the talk of a panel volleying a proposal back to the county for a redo, but the decision instead left county officials angry and fed up.

“We have spent a lot of time and resources trying to improve coastal access at Pirate’s Cove, and they said ‘no,’ so we will move on to many other projects,” said Supervisor Adam Hill, whose district includes the park. “We don’t have the resources to continue trying to find some permutation that will be acceptable to the Coastal Commission.”

With that, the proposal is effectively dead, save for building the trail from the park to Shell Beach, which was the only element approved. Like that’s some great victory. Rich people on the hill will now have a nicer walking path out their front door. Whoop-dee-doo.

I don’t see that broadening use of the area much.

And that is what’s at the root of this issue. Those who opposed the county’s project don’t want this area to be used by more people, for whatever reasons — some certainly genuine and respectful of the land, but many others not.

So Pirate’s Cove will stay as is, beautiful sunsets, used condoms and all. Maybe some of you see that as coastal protection, but I don’t.