Save The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve


By on Sun, August 15, 2010

Although I am a newly appointed member of the Midcoast Community Council (MCC), the following comments are my own and are not meant to represent the MCC’s official position.

In most of the MCC meetings so far, discussions have concentrated on the Dardenelle Trail but not on the "ramp" which goes from the corner of North Lake and Nevada Sts down to the tide pools. It is at the NW corner of the Ranger Station’s parking lot. I want the people of the coastside to know of the planned changes to the entrance of the reserve that will ruin the natural setting that is there now.

Today, it is fairly rustic. A dirt path sloping down to the shoreline where there is a bench facing the sea. Along the way there are a couple of informational signs talking about the tide pool and the reserve along with a bike rack and a trash container.

On the north-side of the ramp is a fence marking the private property next door but as you walk down the ramp the decrease in elevation gives rise to a small plot of land that slopes up to the neighbor’s fence. As you proceed down there is a short single rail fence to keep people on the ramp and prevent them from working on the hill killing plants and causing erosion.

On the south side of the ramp, there is an information kiosk and a small triangular patch of land which slopes down to the creek where there is a rustic, two-rail fence to prevent people from falling down the creek slope. When my children were young (3-5 years old) they would run along the path completing the two legs of the triangle while my wife and I walk the ramp (the third leg of the triangle). I say that because even today when I see families there, I still see young children doing the same thing and I believe it is where some may get their life long love for enjoying nature. It is also one of the main reasons I moved to Moss Beach over 25 years ago.

Anyway, my point is, while some of the fencing and signs and bike racks and trash containers are not natural they are necessary to keep visitors informed, act as teaching guides and limit debris from being spewed around the park. They are also fairly unobtrusive because they are done to scale and to some degree the materials and colors are meant to blend in. It is not perfect but it a concession that was made to balance preserving the reserve and allowing public use.

Now if you go to the MCC home page and click the links for Negative Declaration and Beach Access Ramp - 60% Plans you will find details on the proposed “upgrades” which will completely change the characteristics of the entrance to the FMR. There will be a quarter mile long 10.5 ft wide asphalt covered “path” with 3 ft shoulders where the dirt path is today.

In RAMP Plans on page 5, Item 1 ADA Path Wall Detail they are talking about a concrete wall on the north side of the path running for 19.5 ft length of the ramp starting with a 2 ft high scaling to a 6ft high at the shore line end. There will be an aluminum handrail running the length of the wall for ADA. What will this do the natural environment that surrounds the tide pools today?

Then there are the stairs. Today, to get from the lower end of the ramp onto the beach below there is a 10 ft to 15 ft drop to the beach which is negotiated with some make shift wood stairs and rocks. Not the easiest access and definitely could use some improvement. But from what I can tell in the drawings on pages 3 and 5 they are building a monstrous asphalt covered concrete reinforced overlook 35 ft by 40 ft with a couple of telescopes, piles of rocks that form maybe a 20’ semicircle around the overlook platform with a 6 ft wide staircase about 10 - 15 ft long to a path 6 ft wide right angled to the stairs running maybe 20 -25 ft and then another set of stairs 7ft 4 in wide running 5 -10 ft to the sand. There is a provision for a 20 ft seasonal bridge at the bottom. These dimensions are approximations because the published document lacks details and the site was never mark out for a public review.

There is a second asphalt covered concrete reinforced overlook on the south side halfway up the ramp will be 30 ft by 20 ft. where the triangular patch of wild flowers I mentioned early. I am not sure why the lookout is even placed there or why we need two in that small space.

So my question to all is what exactly is “a marine reserve”? Is it there to protect a special unique environment for people to see or is it a built up park that looks like so many others in less sensitive areas? I urge you to sign the petition to Save the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve here:

Thanks for posting this. We’ve been giving a lot of (justified) attention to the plans to pave the trail at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, but it’s just as important to understand the modifications to the beach entry and overlook.

I’m a bit confused between the lengthy discussion in the FMR Master Plan about the degradation of the reef from overuse, the need to restrict use, and this new beach access plan which is basically a short but wide asphalt boulevard to the reef replacing a beautiful natural area with black road paving and retaining walls as high as tall people, with the one benefit that wheel chair access will be extended from the upper viewing level (which already has quite a good view) to the lower level (but still not to the beach). 

Wheel-chair access requires a sufficiently firm surface, not necessarily paving, and a minimum trail width of 3 feet.  Surely if it is deemed necessary to have the lower viewing level handicap accessible it could be done with a much narrower path which would thus allow much lower retaining walls.  Bicycles, joggers, and horses are not an issue here.  The trail width only needs to accommodate pedestrians and an occasional wheel chair, just for a short distance as a more-or-less dead-end trail.  People don’t need to walk 3 or 4 abreast in each direction if space is constrained by the slope of the land. 

Imagine the change in appearance of this natural area as you look back up the hill from the beach and see nothing but rip rap, paving and retaining walls winding up the hill (all in such a precarious position exposed to creek flooding, storm surf, and sea level rise).  This paved urbanscape does not appear to comply with LCP Policy 8.5 which requires that new development preserve the area’s visual and open space qualities.  I can’t help but imagine what great nature enhancement could be achieved by instead directing these considerable financial resources toward a restoration of the riparian habitat of San Vicente Creek.

Comment 3
Wed, August 18, 2010 4:04pm
Carl May
All my comments

As with the proposed road through the reserve, pavement on the slope down to the beach is entirely unnecessary. There are other stable, permeable, all-weather surfaces that would do just fine.

Pavement is so 20th century developer. The massive negative off-site impacts due to the energy, mining, processing, and transport of paving materials involved are seldom considered but are often even greater than the negative effects where cement or asphalt is laid down. This is part of why the reason negative declarations for paving projects are virtually never appropriate. The requirements to consider alternatives and cumulative effects (which gets into total impacts and not just immediate ones) are usually ignored entirely or dismissed out of hand on neg decs.

This is another ill-conceived project in a long line of similar projects either conceived or endorsed by County officials (Mirada Surf road and oversized bridge, ugly view-blocking Harbor Village Mall, Big Pave, etc.)

However, I just read a report that the asphalt road in the FMR project is being dropped. Maybe County Parks Official Dave “Pave” Holland realized that this incredibly oversized project is headed for a Coastal Commission appeal unless it is redesigned to be compatible with the surrounding natural environment.

Comment 5
Fri, August 20, 2010 2:40pm
Carl May
All my comments

Got a reference to that report that we can all see, Kevin?

Unless they designate the existing blufftop trail as the California Coastal Trail, there will be plenty of cause for objection at the Coastal Conservancy—if funds for that specific state trail are sought there—and at the Coastal Commission—because the route where the asphalt road would have been does not meet the criteria for the CCT nearly as well. Development for urbanized recreation can be just as harmful to a place as development for housing. The blufftop trail is the route that has been serving perfectly well as the California Coastal Trail for almost two decades.

NEPA suggests cumulative effects and alternatives should be considered along with other things, and switching surfaces only diminishes one of a number of issues on that front. And the times in which we live should be cause enough for everyone to question unnecessary government spending to end up with something worse than what already exists.

If we can get the county to wake up and not put in the ridiculous artificial surface used at the top of the new stairs down to the beach at Seal Cove—a complete waste of money as the pre-existing more natural surface had no problems—all it would take is a little trail-savvy work in the vicinity of the foundation for the old house to have access to the blufftop on the (proper CCT) from the south end for wheelchairs.

I’m blown away at the use of words like “improvement”—by our own MCC, nothing the county does on the negative side is at all unusual—to describe projects that involve degradation of existing coastal features and resources and relocation of coastal access to less suitable locations. It goes deeper than the surface of the proposed disaster.

All of the county shenanigans at Fitzgerald give me pause when I read POST will be transferring its property on Pillar Point Ridge to County Parks. The surfaces on the trails established there are just fine. Are we looking at future county projects to screw them up, too? Will the county try to have a trail on the ridge other than the one closest to the ocean designated as the CCT in order to try to get funds from the Coastal Conservancy for a project that doesn’t need to be done?

Comment 6
Fri, August 20, 2010 3:16pm
Carl May
All my comments

For those new to the minutiae of California Coastal Trail babble, this paragraph from the State Senate staff analysis of Chesbro, SB 908, may provide a lead-in.

” ANALYSIS :  According to background material provided by
      the author, advocates for the California Coastal Trail
      (CCT) wish to construct a trail along the entire California
      coast linking the Oregon border and Mexico.  This goal was
      first articulated in legislation in 1975 in the California
      Coastal Plan, which called for the establishment of a
      linked system of trails, to be constructed along the
      oceanfront wherever possible.  Responsibility for the
      acquisition projects in support of the CCT was transferred
      to the California Coastal Conservancy (Conservancy) in

At the state level, SB 908, authored by a State Senator from Humboldt County, Wes Chesbro, and signed into law by then Governor Gray Davis, sets the most definitive guidance for the establishment and management of the CCT. The bill is recommended reading, a rare piece by a legislator who has walked the walk. Looking at the record since, one will find the often urban-think Coastal Conservancy stretching and violating the character of its SB 908 mandate on a number of projects. (Yet doing just fine on others—seems to depend on their internal bureaucratic shuffle, the desires of local governments, and the availability of money from such accounts as state bond measures.)

Several books and hiking guides on the California Coastal Trail have been written, the most well established being the two volumes (northern and southern) of “Hiking the California Coastal Trail” by Lorentzen and Nichols (Bored Feet Press). There are also quite a number of more local guides to the trail that one can find with a bit of Googling.

From the HMB Review 8/20/2010
“County ditches asphalt trail for Fitzgerald”

Comment 8
Sat, August 21, 2010 6:56pm
Carl May
All my comments

If the article gets it right, the disaster to the local area and the coastal trail concept remain undiminished. In fact, it looks like they might twist the opportunity into using another inappropriate artificial surface that will enlarge the waste of money by 15 percent. Not a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but a 15 percent larger sow’s ear.

Obviously they won’t get it anytime soon. And with the county’s record of pushing for more urbanized recreation that will accommodate more unsustainable overdevelopment here and the county personnel marching to the tune of “Pave It and Paint It Green,” we don’t expect them to. If anyone has the time, stomach, and energy for it, the places on the state level to try to stop this nutso stuff will be at the Coastal Commission and, if Conservancy funds are sought to make this part of the California Coastal Trail, at the Coastal Conservancy. If they try to continue with only a Negative Declaration, a NEPA lawsuit is also a possibility.

Comment 9
Fri, August 27, 2010 7:24pm
Carl May
All my comments

Wow, is it difficult to listen to Mr. Holland talk about the California Coastal Trail when, by lack of reference, he seems to have no idea of the founding concept of the trail as a long-distance trail in the manner of the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail.

He seems to have no concept of the ideal physical nature of the trail as lateral access to the coastline, meaning the route should be as close to the ocean as feasible without being impassible or causing damage to coastal features (the majority of the Oregon Coast Trail is on the beach!). Holland seems unaware of the state’s legislative foundation for what the trail should be as embodied in SB908 (Chesbro) and other measures. Worse yet, for a local meeting, he seems to have no concept of the history of CCT activities here on the midcoast for the past couple of decades through annual Coastwalks (during which time the county parks people cooperated wonderfully with us), through the route taken by CCT border-to-border groups (whose purpose it was to call attention to existing segments of trail and places where the CCT was yet to be established), in the CCT trail guide to our area (with its perfectly functional route through Fitzgerald), in MCC Parks and Rec Committee activities for a number of years (before some newcomers to the MCC let that committee and all it was considering die), etc.

Holland mentions getting grants from bond funds for putting an expensive, artificially surfaced FMR segment of the CCT in a place different from the route that has served trail walkers for the past couple of decades. Do our state and county bureaucrats not know of the fiscal dilemmas we have gotten ourselves into? Of the current intractable fiscal condition of the state and county? Do they not know anything paid for with bond funds costs the naive public roughly twice as much because of the interest? Of course they know about such things. They are simply not responsible enough to care. Well, the public cares. Mr. Holland should note the county’s last attempt to get parks funds with a sales tax failed at the ballot box. My reason for voting against it was to deny the funds to a government that was wasting money on such things as the road across Mirada Surf West—another stretch of non-trail away from the shoreline where it is supposed to be. We are not talking about nuanced waste here. We are talking about orders of magnitude more being spent than necessary and about that money being used to degrade our environment and all the places elsewhere that are degraded to produce such things as unnecessary, joint-jolting pavement.

All that needs to be spent to have an fine official CCT route through Fitzgerald is the money for the little round trail markers designating the existing trail. Anything more is in pursuit of an agenda stretching beyond the relatively straightforward matter of the CCT. Feeling spendy? Touch up a few feet of the existing trail to open it to wheelchairs.

Having gotten away with it for the past couple of years, Holland seems to think getting public input consists of hand-picking committees to do the county’s bidding and of letting the public speak its mind at a few badly scheduled and badly located meetings before going ahead and railroading through what County Parks wants to do all along. Gee, what a surprise from a county that decided to dictate to us from over the hill who could and could not be on the MCC.

What County Parks and Rec is doing with our trails, especially the CCT, is inventing a process to serve its politically-motivated interests, similar to the urban-centric, overdevelopment-serving, so-called charette in El Granada involving outside consultants who know nothing of our area, rather than serving the citizens of our area. As far as the CCT goes, the people of the state are also being cheated. We deserve a lot better; and the coastal features of our geographic area deserve a better steward than a coast- and community-defiling government attempting to dictate a change of our lives to a poorer, degraded, urban condition.