County plans to revitalize Tunitas Creek Beach in Half Moon Bay were presented to the public Thursday, detailing a series of amenities to make the county land safely accessible while protecting sensitive wildlife.
“The department is really excited about the opportunity to provide its first coastal beach recreation site and park and one that has such a rich history but also one that we get to create from the ground up,” said Nicholas Calderon, San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Department director, during a public forum Thursday, Jan. 28.
Development would be split in three tiers with most construction concentrated at the top of the bluff, some amenities in the middle bluff, minimal development on the lower bluff and no development along the beach. Paved parking for 65 cars including five stalls for Americans with Disability Act accommodations would be located at the top, just off of Highway 1 as well as a loading and unloading zone.
Three overlook points would also be located accompanied by an Indigenous Peoples land acknowledgement plaque, seating, stormwater buffer greenery and ADA accessible pedestrian trails to the mid-bluff. Rest stops would be included along the trail.
Mid-bluff amenities would include a picnic area, grove seating, another overlook point, public restrooms and ADA accessible tiered seating overlooking the view. From the mid-bluff, a trail would extend to the beach, also with ADA accommodations.
A loop trail would also be established, providing visitors with a 1.5-mile trail starting at the parking lot, through the beach and back up the north beach entrance. Additional seating and overlook points would be featured along the trail. Bike parking would also be provided though suggested locations have not been identified.
The beach is also a nesting ground for the federally protected Western Snowy Plovers, a small pale bird often disturbed by human beach activity, hindering the species ability to nest. Interested in protecting the birds, the parks department has proposed installing a boardwalk around the nesting site that would allow visitors to observe from a safe distance while leaving the habitat undisturbed.
Trash bins would also be staged around the grounds to limit the amount of waste left behind. Mario Nastari, a county park ranger and project manager, said the department plans to instill a “pack in, pack out” mentality though recognized such habits take time to develop.
Additionally, programming would be developed to educate the public on the land’s native history, once used as a seasonal village by the Ohlone for centuries and as an ocean shore railroad site. Interpretive signs will also be erected, detailing the area's history.
“[The site] has a rich history, and because it has a rich history, it’s going to have an amazing programing opportunity,” said Calderon.
An initial community survey of 519 respondents mostly from San Mateo County showed the public generally wished for the land to be preserved in its natural form but were interested in light redevelopment. Residents were largely concerned for increased access, loop trail and habitat protection.
“Over 90% [of respondents] just want to enjoy a tranquil beach environment and overwhelmingly we heard time and time again to keep the site natural. Don’t overdevelop it and keep Tunitas Creek character intact,” said Nastari during the forum.
The site is also prone to various environmental concerns including active landslides, cliff erosion and sea level rise. Weak areas will be fortified while development in high-risk areas will be completely avoided. Additional restoration would need to be done to Tunitas Creek itself though land ownership hurdles will need to be addressed, said Calderon.
A goal of the proposed project is to improve safe access to the beach that has been a prime destination for overnight camping events and parties. Previously, visitors were prohibited from camping and lighting fires on the beach to protect the coastal environment.
The 58-acre beachfront property south of Martin’s Beach but north of San Gregorio was purchased for $5 million by the nonprofit, Peninsula Open Space Trust in 2017. POST sought $10 million in donations to fund both the purchase and restoration of the beach which would cost the county an additional $10 million over 10 years to manage.
Next, the designs will be presented to the Parks Commission Feb. 4 followed by the Board of Supervisors Feb. 23. Additional community meetings will be hosted throughout 2021. Once approved by both entities, the proposal will undergo an environmental review.
Calderon said the department hopes to have the beach opened to the public in a limited fashion — potentially guided hikes — by the end of 2021 with a formal grand opening in 2022.
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