State and county agencies are investigating whether public access to Faria Beach has been wrongfully blocked by the Faria Beach Homeowners Association (FBHA).

The California Coastal Commission has launched a prescriptive rights study to determine if the undeveloped beachside lot immediately north of 3902 W. Pacific Coast Highway may have been a public access pathway in the past. The lot, which would provide quick access to the beach, has been protected by a locked gate for decades, homeowners contend.

If the study does indeed show that the lot has historical significance as a pathway, California law provides that under certain conditions a permanent public easement could be established.

“We put up prescriptive rights study on our website and we are soliciting comments from the public regarding historical public use of this area,” said Patrick Veesart, a Coastal Commission supervisor. “It will ultimately help inform us what has exactly occurred out here and whether or not there are public rights being denied.”

Veesart said the Coastal Commission does not have a record of a permit for the gate in question, and the issue concerning code compliance was taken up by the county.

Mark Munyon, a county resource management agency code compliance officer, said there is an ongoing investigation about a potential code violation for the installation of the gate and couldn’t provide further comment.

Chuck Menzel, FBHA board president, said there has been no violation and the homeowners just wanted to improve a gate that was in disrepair in order to enhance security. The gate, he said, is maintained by the homeowners as an emergency entrance only and has never been a public access point.

“That is a private easement,” said Menzel. “It has been marked as a private easement and it goes back 40 to 50 years as a fenced area. It is now emergency access to the fire department. It’s an important piece of private property for us because we want a sense of security.”

But one resident, Robert Bianchi, has been a thorn in the side of the FBHA, claiming that when he bought his Faria Beach home in 1980, there were no gates or fences. He feels it has long been the homeowners’ intention to dissuade the public from accessing Faria Beach.

 

faria 2 Photo by Herber Pelayo

The California Coastal Commission has undertaken a prescriptive rights investigation to determine if this gated Faria Beach lot was meant to be a public pathway.

 

“The association wants to make people believe the commission is taking this property away from them,” said Bianchi. “What they’re (the Coastal Commission) trying to do is regain what the public once had, and that was free access.”

Bianchi, who has pictures of himself on Faria Beach dating back to 1926, claims that when Manuel del Terra Faria donated his property to the county in 1915, private easements were also designated to ensure the public would maintain access points to the beach. But those private easements have since been ignored by homeowners and construction projects, he said.

What’s more, Bianchi insists the FBHA, in an attempt to discourage people from visiting the beach, has for years been refusing to work with the appropriate agencies in acquiring sanitation facilities for the popular Mondo’s Cove area, one of the two public access points along Faria Beach that can attract hundreds of visitors over the weekends. With no portable toilets in the Mondo’s Cove vicinity, beachgoers often trek across the railroad tracks and into the native brush.

“We see it all the time with surf schools and such. It’s disgusting,” said surfer Brandon Cifrid, who said he and his friends have taken to calling the area Poo Canyon. “They don’t realize there is a creek that goes down there. We roust the hell of them when we see it happen.”

Bianchi, who has long been at odds with the FBHA about this issue, has of late been handing out fliers — with a piece of toilet paper attached — to beachgoers that reads, among other verbiage, “This is all you’re going to get, compliments of the board of the Faria Beach Homeowners Association.” 

 
Menzel said he has not seen the flier, but added that Bianchi’s statements are wildly inaccurate and in no way represent the position of the board.

Documents dating back to 2003 show that the FBHA has had a Mondo’s Beach Management and Access Plan in place, with key stakeholders such as the Surfrider Foundation and Coastal Conservancy. The improvement plan’s designs would provide sanitation facilities and improve the safety and access to the beach, including a crosswalk and a ramp, so visitors would not have to traverse down the rocks to reach the sand. Menzel said the plan has been stalled due to the number of agencies that would need to be collectively involved.

“We need all the coastal protective state agencies to rally around this and help us work with Cal Trans and the railroads to make it happen,” he said. “It is a difficult task, but we believe we can all make it happen.”

A major point of contention between Bianchi and FBHA is that Bianchi wants a quick solution by placing portable toilets in the area, but Menzel stated that the association wants it to be done in a “more managed, enhanced way.” He added that the poor state of the port-a-johns at Solimar Beach is an example of what Faria residents want to avoid.

Teresa Lubin, county parks manager, confirmed that all agencies need to be on board before they can move toward implementing any sort of management plan.

“This is not something we have control over. A consensus is necessary,” said Lubin. “I understand the frustration and I wish there was a solution that was apparent.

Menzel said the FBHA is willing to take the lead on whatever action is necessary to improve the quality and safety for the Mondo’s Cove visitors.

“I think the climate is right to continue to push forward with a plan that not only improves access, but helps manage this special part of the coast,” Menzel added.

To participate in the prescriptive rights study, visit www.coastal.ca.gov/access/Faria_Beach_Prescriptive_Rights_Survey.pdf.