Beach access proponents get decision in their favor, but battle likely far from over
by Dave Schwab
Dec 09, 2013 | 2199 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A 30-plus-year battle over historic beach access at Princess Street in La Jolla Shores may finally be over.

Or is it?

“We’re studying all of our legal options and an appeal is one of those options,” said Ure Kretowicz, owner of a blufftop property at 7957 Princess St., following a Nov. 18 Superior Court judgment by Judge Judith F. Hayes in Kretowicz vs. California Coastal Commission.

Hayes ruled against Kretowicz, who contended in his lawsuit against the state regulatory agency that historic beach access never existed — and therefore there was no requirement to restore it — on his Princess Street property.

Excerpts from Judge Hayes’ decision:

“… There was a historical use by the public of access to the ocean through the subject property … the California Coastal Commission acted appropriately and the 1979 revised permit and its public-access condition are enforceable. … The public access condition runs with the land and the failure to record the dedication does not extinguish the public’s right to access. … In 1979, a revised permit was issued including the public easement requirements. Even though Jane Baker (the previous owner) did not sign the revised permit she was required to comply with its requirements.”

Kretowicz said he is weighing his options following the judge’s decision.

“The good news is we aren’t forced to make a decision immediately. We have a little bit of time to make that decision on which [legal] direction is the best for us to take,” he said. “An appeal would be one of those viable alternatives.”

Kretowicz is steadfast in contending there “never was an easement recorded” on the Princess Street property as it changed hands over the years, adding “it (access) hadn’t been used in more than 30 years. If this was a high-use easement, wouldn’t there have been a public outcry 10, 15, 20 years ago?”

Kretowicz said the issue of a beach-access easement never surfaced until 1979 when he “applied for a permit for a patio in my backyard.”

“There never was an easement, it certainly hadn’t been used in over 30 years and the locked gate there is for emergency lifeguard access only, which we’re more than happy to give,” he said.

Princess Street beach-access proponents Melinda Merryweather and Anthony Ciani had a different story to tell.

Ciani, an architect whose main residence is no longer in La Jolla, but who still owns property there, said the Superior Court decision speaks for itself.

“To all your causes of action, the answer is no. That’s what the judge said,” said Ciani.

Kretowicz’s strategy throughout the long and arduous legal battle, Ciani contended, has been to “postpone hearings, drag this out even longer. They (Kretowicz) tried every statute of limitations, every prescriptive right under the sun and the judge said, ‘No, you don’t get it.’ That’s huge.”

Ciani said he felt previous case law in California “paved the way for this case.”

The lesson with the pro-beach access side prevailing, Ciani said, is that, “If you’re patient, diligent or persistent, at some point you probably are going to succeed.”

Ciani also credited the California Coastal Commission for “having a consistent passion to protect public access.”

Merryweather, a longtime member of parks and beaches subcommittees who has mapped all of La Jolla’s 50-plus beach-access points, said the land-use issue has been drawn out because Kretowicz failed to accept the obvious and inescapable conclusion.

“It’s astonishing to me that somebody who’s lived with an 8-foot sign in front of their house that said ‘coastal access’ has the audacity to claim he never knew he lived in a house that had a coastal access on it,” Merryweather said. “It’s always been known that [beach access] goes with the land.”

Now that the Kretowicz court judgment has been rendered, Merryweather said the next step is to “get somebody to accept the (easement) dedication.”

Who could that be?

“Maybe an Indian tribe,” answered Merryweather, adding the ultimate objective will be restoration of the easement.

“We’ll make it walkable again,” she said.
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