Poplar Beach changes
The city of Half Moon Bay and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office are working to alleviate problems brought by the popularity of Poplar Beach. Kent Hwang / Review

The city of Half Moon Bay, working with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, is planning to continue enhanced enforcement at Poplar Beach this spring and summer.

After hearing complaints from residents who live near the beach about littering, traffic and noise from people not adhering to the city’s ordinances, staff implemented a pilot program in 2019 to address the issues. This year, city officials are building on that program. They hope that an increase of law enforcement and education among high school students will deter violations.

The program expansion was presented at the March 17 Half Moon Bay City Council meeting.

To address a concern about visitors parking in the surrounding neighborhoods in the evenings, the gate to the Poplar Beach parking lot has been left open. The intention was to encourage parking in a designated lot versus spilling out into the neighborhood. It also relieved the duties of opening and shutting the gate twice a day, seven days a week.

“We are trying to put our best foot forward on this to come up with a good solution for everyone,” Sheriff’s Office Capt. Saul Lopez said. “By leaving the gate open, it has reduced calls for service in the neighborhoods.”

Vehicles that park in the lot must still pay to park and cannot stay there overnight.

Another advantage of allowing the parking lot to remain open is that Sheriff’s deputies would have a captive audience for any misbehavior, according to Public Works Director John Doughty.

While the Sheriff’s Office maintains two-deputy shifts, Lopez said extra deputies will be used on an overtime basis on bicycle patrols. Last year, Lopez said the Sheriff’s Office was looking into getting an off-road vehicle to use patrolling the beach. He said the vehicle is purchased and is expected to arrive within 60 days.

“We have to prioritize calls that we are responding to, and it takes deputies close to 15 minutes to get to that location (Poplar Beach),” Lopez said. “Then, once our presence is known, it’s hard to enforce unless we see people holding an open container or igniting a fire.”

The Sheriff’s Office now has permission from California State Parks to access the beach from Kelly Avenue to reach groups violating ordinances at a quicker pace, according to Lopez.

“The Polaris (off-road vehicle) is going to be our biggest tool,” Lopez said.

Some were skeptical about the city’s efforts.

“The dangerous behavior at Poplar Beach has continued this winter,” said Half Moon Bay resident Matthew Burriesci. “The city’s policy of nicely warning people is not working. Perhaps if we enforce the law word will get out.”

Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock echoed similar sentiments.

“I am all in favor of managed access, but then we have to put resources behind it,” she said. “I do not think we should do anything we cannot enforce.”

In addition, the city is hiring a private security company, as it did last year, to staff the beach in the evenings. The security guard will notify the Sheriff’s Office if there any code violations.

Recognizing that many of the visitors coming to Poplar Beach are not local, the Sheriff’s Office was intending to send

letters to various high schools in the Bay Area educating them about the rules for the beach. However, with schools canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak it’s unclear how

the message will be communicated.

City staff is also researching ways to allow bonfires at Poplar Beach. Currently, no fires of any kind are allowed at the beach, however they do occur, illegally, leaving char and ashes on the sand. Doughty said other jurisdictions allow for bonfires by renting out certain spots on the beach.

For now, the focus from the city and the Sheriff’s Office is educating people about what is allowed at the beach.

“We have a good plan in place one,” Lopez said. “We will have a presence, but not have a fiscal impact on the budget.”

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