Letter: “The Bluff”

Letter to the editor

Posted by on Wed, May 23, 2007

With reference to the recent article in the HMB Review, I am concerned about the proposed changes along the POST property, affectionately known as "the bluff", north of Pillar Point.  If the proposed changes occur, then we will be losing one of the best places on the coastside to roam freely and to witness nature in action. 

Does Leland Yee  [pdf] or anyone else really believe that "informal trails on Pillar Point Bluff are exacerbating severe erosion on the property’s cliffsides…"? If you’ve ever had the pleasure of standing on the beach below those cliffs, then you’ve probably observed the constant rain of rock fragments from the bluff.  This *is not* the result of people strolling along the bluff’s edge; it *is* the result of a dynamic geological setting.  The bluff is both cut and bounded by active faults along the western edge of the San Andreas fault system, and the bluff will continue to erode and rain debris for as long as the deformation continues, and probably for long after.  We cannot change that.

What concerns me is the rush to close trails and to limit access for reasons that are beyond our control.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for restoring native habitat and I support the ongoing eradication of the Pampas Grass on the bluff top, and I appreciate the fact that FMR rangers actually tend to the people that bring dogs onto that precious stretch of beach.

Let’s just be mindful of the fact that the geography of the bluff has been and continues to be shaped by forces bigger than ourselves and also that it’s pretty cool to be able to actually witness those slow and inexorable forces in action (landslides both small and large, the constant rain of sediment off the bluff, the seasonal movement of sand on the beaches, etc.).  If we take it upon ourselves to stabilize these naturally unstable slopes, then we *will be* altering the property’s "critical natural habitat"—and nobody wants that…do they?


Richard Whitmarsh
El Granada

May I suggest that you get a copy of the material being circulated that describes what POST is proposing for the property rather than getting your information from the Review? Access to the property, which is not the entire ridgetop north from the tracking station to the houses, would not be lost by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t necessarily endorse the overall plan and believe a lot of the proposed money would be wasted on such things as the parking area and new trail up from airport road. But revegetating most of the crisscrossing ad hoc offroad vehicle roads, which are currently in no way natural and will continue to erode and provide opportunity for destructive non-native plants, must at least be considered thinking in the right direction.

This ridgetop was even farmed at one time before industrial recreationists started their own brand of damage with their vehicles. Quibbles aside, POST might be engaged in one of the rare “environmental” attempts hereabouts to actually make a place better (more natural) rather than less worse.

Carl May

Thanks for your comment, Carl.  I have seen the POST proposal document; and you’re right that access to the bluff top would not be lost.  I think that I did not phrase my opening statement well.  I agree with you that POST might be engaged in actually making a place better, but I don’t fully understand their justification for all of the proposed changes.

I guess what really bugs me is the idea of closing trails for the wrong reasons.  Part of the proposal describes “closing of the informal trails that currently connect the blufftop to the beach through an area of active landslide. These trails will be closed and seeded with native plants, *in order to slow erosion, minimize risk to hikers, and *to avoid human impacts on the harbor seal colony that frequents the reef below.” 

The bluff is eroding naturally at an astounding rate, and any human impact (I believe) pales in comparison; and I question the impact that such closure will have on the seal colonies, as most people enter the beach from either farther north or south and proceed right past the landslide locality.  These do not justify the trail closures.

Maybe I’m making more out of this than necessary—I’m not sure. But when public agencies like the Coastal Conservancy support poorly-justified works, however well-intentioned, I guess it just makes me twitch.

Thanks again for your comment.

As someone who has scrambled from the beach to bluff top on various occasions, I’m glad that access will be closed off and revegitated. I merely did it, like Bill Clinton, because I could, not because it was imperative in any way at all. Though accomplishing this with the lightest tread and careful balance in order not to disturb the meager plant life along the “trails,” I knew deep down that even I was making an impact, and the slopes were obviously melting like icecream due to frequent human use.

I readily yield to POST’s long range vision that extends well beyond my immediate need for gratification. If I really need to climb something, Montera Mountain patiently awaits me.

Richard Whitmarsh brings up a good point:

“I agree with you that POST might be engaged in actually making a place better, but I don’t fully understand their justification for all of the proposed changes.”

Because the stated mission of an organization sounds like a Good Thing, does that mean that everything they do will automatically be Good or introduced for Good Reasons?

On another local forum, a liberal coastside resident stated this about a well known organization (not POST but name removed to protect the bozos):

Insert name here supports some worthy projects, but they are also run by a bunch of bozos. It’s hard to say a word against people who are trying to fill in good cause here, but insert name here goes way too far and often gets in the way of basic, important scientific research.

We need checks an balances. Individuals should take the incentive to read the fine print and ask “why?”.

Checks and balances are essential when dealing with any kind of development. These things don’t exist in isololation, they’re part of whatever community they’re plopped into, and will endure long after we’re all dust. 

It’s the reason we have things like planning commissions and coastal development permits.  The kinds of checks and balances that the Coastside right decry as violations of their property rights every time they get in front of a public forum.

I haven’t been to the site in a while, so I can’t speak from experience. So, I really appreciated Ken’s perspective.  But since we’re balancing public goods, and this case is about access, we may be lucky we have the Coastal Act—which seems like an ideal mechanism for resolving the issue.


In the end, you’ll probably end up with at least a narrow “ad hoc” trail down that landslide. That will be better than the casual road that once went down there—is the car that couldn’t make it out still visible down there, or is it completely covered? In any event, I’d prefer a casual trail there. Many people would not like the route, anyway, as there is often a real soft muddy place the last few feet down to the beach where the landslide drains.

You may have noticed that, like most state agencies, the Coastal Conservancy likes to maximize the size (and, therefore, the cost) of its projects and the projects it funds. If it did fund a formal trail to the beach, it would most likely be oversized and, indeed, cause more disruption to the landscape than necessary. They really don’t understand the terms “single track” or “footpath” where that might be the best size for an acceptable trail. That landslide, being a classically and continuously disturbed area has been pampas grass hell for many years. While it will continue to move, being one of the places of most active bluff retreat on the entire California Coast in recent times, I’m happy to see someone at least wanting to revegetate it with natives. This will help create more of a situation in which the beach, Frenchman’s Reef, and the other intertidal areas below get more of a natural rate of material from the bluffs and big landslide.

One reason the intertidal area below these bluffs is in better shape than in the part of Fitzgerald in Moss Beach where the parking lot and rangers hut is located is because it is visited less, much less. It will probably be best if we do not have a wide, signed trail channeling more people to it (which, incidentally is another reason to oppose the new parking area and trail to the ridgetop just over the ridge on Airport Road). You’ll still know the route.

Carl May