Pirate’s Cove needs help. Let’s start with a nighttime parking ban

Pirate's Cove between Avila Beach and Shell Beach has had crime, safety and cleanliness problems for years, including an incredibly bumpy parking area and no permanent garbage cans.
Pirate's Cove between Avila Beach and Shell Beach has had crime, safety and cleanliness problems for years, including an incredibly bumpy parking area and no permanent garbage cans. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Pirate’s Cove is overdue for an intervention. Putting a ban on night-time parking is a good place to start.

To make sure parking violators get the point, slap them with a big, fat fine.

The Coastal Commission—which is dedicated to improving beach access—might not like the idea of a nighttime parking curfew. Tough. If it discourages the trashing of Pirate’s Cove, that’s a good thing, and the Coastal Commission should embrace it.

Something has to be done, because Pirate’s Cove—once a hidden gem of the South County—has become so badly tarnished that it’s hardly recognizable as the mellow, live-and-let-live, clothing-optional beach of the ’70s and ’80s.

Today, there are ruts in the parking lot; the walls of the beach cave are spray painted with graffiti; and the area is awash in trash—and we’re not just talking cigarette butts and fast-food wrappers. On any given day, you might find human feces, broken glass, used condoms and hypodermic needles.

Volunteers do what they can; a group called the Whale Cave Conservancy picks up trash on a regular basis and calls the county to haul it out. And on Saturday—the annual Coastal Cleanup Day—Pirate’s Cove was one of the sites targeted for a massive trash pick up.

As grateful as we are to the volunteers, it’s neither practical nor fair to saddle them with day-to-day maintenance of county-owned property. Besides, garbage isn’t the worst problem. Pirate’s Cove has been the site of criminal activity, including sexual assaults, prostitution, drug deals and car break-ins.

In other words, it’s not the kind of place you’d take the family, and that’s a big part of the problem; there aren’t enough law-abiding bodies on the beach. Because who wants to go to a beach that’s widely regarded as both a menace to health and safety and a skanky den of iniquity?

So who’s to blame?

The county Board of Supervisors—particularly the conservative majority—has taken lots of heat for failing to allocate park fees to improve Pirate’s Cove. Instead, funding doled out in the most recent go-round of allocations went to park projects in Nipomo.

We agree it would have been appropriate if some minimal funding had gone to Pirate’s. It also would have been nice if supervisors had allocated money to fix the rickety beach staircase in Cayucos.

But there is only so much money to go around for capital projects. And let’s be honest. Problems at Pirate’s go back several years—long before the current conservative majority came into power. Besides, even if the board had thrown $1 million or so at the problem, it wouldn’t solve it.

It will require an ongoing commitment of county staff to patrol the area, to pick up trash and maintain trails. That’s daunting, but we believe it’s worth it, even if it means dipping into the General Fund—or coming up with a revenue-producing plan to fund all county parks at a decent level.

Added bonus: With more revenue available, there just might be less infighting about which community is most deserving of park funds.

Pirate’s Cove isn’t too far gone to save. It needs initial funding for basic amenities such as a graded parking area, trash cans and, ideally, a portable toilet or two, plus an annual budget to cover maintenance and operations.

We urge the Board of Supervisors to provide that.

We urge the Coastal Commission to stay out of the way.

Let Pirate’s Cove heal.

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