image-poplar beach
City of Half Moon Bay officials are weighing a series of efforts designed to cut down on illegal behavior at Poplar Beach. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

Piles of overflowing trash, late partying and bonfires left burning overnight are common at Poplar Beach. Residents would like that to change.

In June, some residents spoke to the City Council about a “systematic, regular problem,” according to longtime resident Steve Maller. “We have ordinances. But there is no enforcement.”

City codes for beaches and parks forbid smoking, fireworks and alcoholic beverages, and, as of early July, no glass containers will be allowed. However, there is no dedicated and consistent enforcement of these rules.

Maller and a few other residents presented multiple examples of what they considered to be violations of city code. As a response, during the subsequent City Council meeting on June 18, city staff and the San Mateo County Sheriff Capt. Saul Lopez spoke of potential solutions that include stepped-up enforcement. 

“There are really two paths of issues. One is dealing with enforcement and the other is dealing with the ongoing maintenance of the litter and debris,” said Public Works Director John Doughty. 

Since the city entered in an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office eight years ago, deputies have taken on the responsibility of opening and closing the gates to the parking lot at Poplar Beach.

“Sometimes the timing is not consistent (for opening and closing the gates) because priority calls always take precedence,” Lopez said. 

Lopez stated he is researching the possibility of adding an off-road policing vehicle, such as one manufactured by Polaris. In order to gain access to the beach safely, Lopez said he is working on an agreement with California State Parks to allow deputies riding in the vehicle to enter from state-owned property then onto Poplar Beach. 

“We would have a more California-style Polaris, which would have all the equipment a police car has,” Lopez said. “I think it would be a great assist for our deputies to use, and people will know there is enforcement after hours.” 

The average cost of an outfitted Polaris is around $10,000 to $20,000. 

The city’s Public Works Department is also considering purchasing its own type of off-road vehicle for assisting in trash pickup and maintenance on the beach, according to Doughty. 

There are two to three deputies assigned to Half Moon Bay during any particular shift. That often means code violations are low-priority. 

“Deputies now go to Poplar Beach and check the area and announce over their PA systems that the parking lot is closing,” Lopez said. “We are working on the education piece, updating signage and increasing our footprint.” 

As an addition to what the Sheriff’s Office provides, city staff recommends hiring an unarmed private security officer to monitor Poplar Beach from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. The officer would also be tasked with taking over the responsibility from the Sheriff’s deputies and locking the gates for the parking lot. 

“We came to the realization we need supplemental resources,” Doughty said. 

City staff estimates the new services will cost the city less than $50,000 a year. Lopez said funding for the vehicle would be separate from the Sheriff’s contract. He said there are grants available for such vehicles as well as additional traffic signs. 

Two to three peace officers are assigned during any given shift at Coastside state beaches, according to State Parks Public Safety Superintendent Bill Wolcott. 

Lifeguards and park rangers are tasked with enforcing state beach codes through citations or warnings. State Parks also works closely with the county’s allied agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office. 

“We work on a day-to-day basis to address problems that come from high-visitation areas,” Wolcott said. 

With school out and tourist season arriving, trash is starting to pile up at Poplar Beach. 

During the June 4 City Council meeting, resident Jennifer Lockhart passed around several photos she had taken of trash and debris left on the beach after a recent weekend. Doughty said, to combat the problem, the city has modified the schedules for its maintenance staff to allow someone to work on the weekends through the end of September.

“The issue is slowly resolving itself, but we wish people would pack it out more,” Doughty said. 

An innovative pilot program involving a partnership with the city and nonprofit Abundant Grace aimed at combating overflowing trash at the city’s beaches and parks is being renewed. In 2018, the city granted the nonprofit money to pay homeless and low-income individuals to assist in cleaning up the beaches and Coastal Trail. 

Since the program was launched, it’s created 450 hours of paid work opportunities for 28 people and removed up to 10 tons of trash from the beach, according to the city’s report. 

The city extended the program for another year, providing more funding to extend cleanup in additional areas and have the Abundant Grace Coastside Clean Team work with the city’s maintenance efforts. 

A garbage bag dispenser will be installed at Poplar Beach’s access point, to encourage beachgoers to dispose of items before leaving the area. 

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Maller said. “There is still much to do, but all in attendance (referring to residents who live near Poplar Beach) agree there has been great progress.”

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