For the parking lot at La Jenelle Park, the drama continues.
The beach, named for the La Jenelle shipwreck off the Oxnard coast near to the Silver Strand neighborhood, has been open and closed several times over the past decade. In 2014, the lot was closed following debate over whose responsibility it was, Ventura County’s or the state’s, to foot the cost of needed pavement repairs and sand removal. In 2015, the lot re-opened. Two years later, the 20-space parking lot is closed yet again to all but foot traffic for a different set of reasons.
Now the California Coastal Commission and some local residents are asking the Ventura County Harbor Department to explain the reasoning behind its decision.
In 2014, the issue was sand and pavement repairs. The road leading to the lot, Victoria Avenue, had been covered in a thick layer of sand, and without regular maintenance became unsafe for vehicles. After a contentious back-and-forth pitting the state against the county, in 2015, the lot was reopened, the sand was cleared and repairs were made by the County. In the fall of 2017, however, the gate leading to the beach was locked again, barring access to anyone not on foot, forcing visitors to park in the adjacent neighborhood.
According to the 1974 contract between the state of California acting as the State Land Commission and Ventura County, the county is responsible for the “maintenance and operation” of the jetty and the parking facilities, which include the removal of litter and, in regard to the parking lot, “the accomplishment of any resurfacing which may from time to time become necessary.”
The reasoning behind the latest closure, however, has more to do with the safety of beachgoers, says Ventura County Harbor Director Mark Sandoval.
“Somehow, the word’s gotten out that if you bring a four-by-four you have free access to the beach,” said Sandoval. “Vehicles were getting on the sand and intermixing with beachgoers, creating a dangerous situation.”
Sandoval, who took his position as director in early July, says that on top of the off-road vehicle danger, partygoers were congregating at the beach at night, disturbing neighbors, and that because the lot is not visible from the road, the area attracts illegal activities. What’s more, rusted pieces of metal from the La Jenelle itself have been washing ashore, creating hazards.
Jason Hodge, 43-year resident of Silver Strand, says that the county’s excuses for keeping the lot closed are “laughable” and that it has been “intentionally dragging its feet for years with no consequences.”
“This deprived the public of over two years of access to state lands,” wrote Hodge in a letter to the board members of the California Coastal Commission, adding that “If there is a case for a fine or legal action, I can think of few more deserving. If strong enforcement is not imposed then I can guarantee [that] we will be back here again in a few more years.”
In April, the California Coastal Commission sent a letter to then-Channel Islands Harbor Director Lyn Krieger at the Ventura County Harbor Department alleging that the parking lot was closed without a “coastal development permit,” which the Commission says is required by the county’s Local Coastal Program and the California Coastal Act.
Under the Local Coastal Program, the parking lot is considered a public accessway to the coast and is therefore protected. The closure of the lot, says the Commission, constitutes “development” as defined by the Local Coastal Program, in that it “adversely affects access to the coast by rendering a parking supply that supports coastal access unavailable for use by the public,” thus requiring a permit.
“The County could quickly resolve the matter by reopening the parking lot to public access, namely public vehicular access, including through opening the gate and clearing the access road and parking lot of sand,” reads the letter penned by Andrew Willis, the Southern California enforcement supervisor at the California Coastal Commission.
Sandoval says that his office responded to the letter in mid-July with pictures explaining that the department’s decision to close the lot is actually the opposite of what has been alleged.
“Our argument is that keeping the gate open was impeding access to the beach, rather than the other way around,” said Sandoval, alluding to the off-road vehicles scaring beachgoers away. “With the gate closed we still have pedestrian and bike access.”
Sandoval concludes the letter to Willis by asking that the state withdraw its request to reopen the lot, and saying that the county has only received one complaint regarding a beachgoer parking on a residential street.
To alleviate the off-roading situation will take much effort, says Sandoval, adding that pillars would need to be installed along the lane leading to the lot. The lane, a one-way road, would become harder to traverse for two-way traffic should that be done, he says.
“Maybe there’s issues to deal with about management, but we don’t think that the approach should be closing it entirely,” said Willis. “This access road and parking lot provide a number of parking spots for people outside the community to enjoy the beach.”
Hodge says that there has been no enforcement to keep vehicles off the beach and that the county could fix the problem with signage and a large rock near the entrance, if the county wanted the lot open, that is.
“My position is that I want it open because it’s a public beach and it should be open; their position is that they want it closed, but their reasons change all the time,” said Hodge, adding that the county has a legal obligation to keep the lot open. “So what’s their excuse going to be next time?”