Coastside residents continue to express ire over a portion of Montara’s shoreline that is walled off to the public by homeowners who have designated adjacent property as part of their private land.
Though a portion of the wall at the end of Seacliff Street was replaced by a guardrail in June, members of the public remain disgruntled over walls that remain at the ends of Fifth and Seventh streets. Now, they’re voicing their discontent with an online petition that has amassed nearly 300 signatures in a three-week span.
Karen Wilson, a Montara resident and former member of the Midcoast Community Council, started the petition.
“I was looking at parcel maps and discovered an old historic trail that went along the coastline,” Wilson said. “I was trying to find places to access (the trail), and when you went down each of the streets in Montara you couldn’t get to it. I’ve been working with the county for two years trying to get this fixed.”
The matter is complex, laden with differences between the two properties and its surrounding streets. A wall with a gate sits at the end of Seventh Street, and the property owner leaves the gate open, allowing individuals to access the path that winds behind his house. A sign immediately alerts those who walk through the gate that the property is under camera surveillance, which Wilson says deters people from continuing. The wall was built in the late 1960s or ‘70s.
“The property owner at Seventh Street doesn’t argue the point that it’s all public … he just won’t take down the fence,” said MCC Vice Chair Lisa Ketcham.
Ketcham added that the San Mateo County Planning Department claims the property owner has an encroachment permit that allows for this fence to remain but says it cannot be found, and the only evidence of its existence is in a 1974 letter about the property. She said the permit could be revoked by the county at any time.
The Fifth Street wall is a newer creation, an addition to the property within the last couple years. The wall is a golden hue with a plaque that notifies passersby that this is Villa Borsini, and underneath sits a sign that warns people against trespassing. Around the wall is a winding driveway with an unobstructed view of the ocean.
“Fifth Street is a public right of way,” Ketcham said. “The only way it can be given to the property owner is if the Board of Supervisors gives up the right of way, but they haven’t done that.”
Ketcham takes issue with the county’s position that the unimproved (or “paper”) streets in Montara — Fifth Street being one of them — are not in the county road system and therefore not in its jurisdiction.
“When they came to our (MCC) meetings, their position applies to all paper streets saying the public has no right of access, and it’s just wrong,” she said.
Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen says the wall at the end of Seacliff Street was removed because no adjacent property owner claimed ownership of the fence and because it was located on county property. She would not say whether the county would revisit the issue of the Fifth and Seventh Street walls in light of the renewed calls for them to do so.
“The owners of the property at the end of Seventh Street have a proposal before the (California) Coastal Commission to remodel their home,” Jensen said. “We have to wait and see what the Coastal Commission does.”
In the meantime, Ketcham is waiting on a new letter of support from the Coastal Commission to the county. She and Committee for Green Foothills legislative advocate Lennie Roberts also recently met with Supervisor Carole Groom, who also serves on the Coastal Commission board. Groom said she would bring the issue of Fifth Street’s classification by the county as an undeveloped street to the Coastal Commission.
Ketcham and Wilson hope the petition will continue to collect signatures, with the ultimate goal of 500 supporters.
“I’m just hopeful this show of support will help them see that this is important and worth addressing,” Ketcham said.