As the summer months come to an end and students go back to school, Half Moon Bay city officials say a pilot program to keep the city’s beaches clean and safe is proving effective. Some residents, however, are not so sure.
“It varies widely from week to week, but it doesn’t feel like it’s any better,” said resident Steve Maller.
About three months ago, residents who live near Poplar Beach spoke to City Council about concerns over violations of city ordinances at the beach. In response, city staff outlined various measures to step up enforcement over the summer, including hiring a security guard and deploying more city staff on weekends.
“I think it is working. Is it perfect? No,” said Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester. “We cannot prevent everything, but what we intended to have happen, has happened. Less people are abusing the beach at night, and we have more people being compliant because they know we are taking it seriously.”
At all of the city’s beaches and parks, smoking, fireworks, alcoholic beverages and the use of glass containers are forbidden by city code.
To assist the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office with enforcement, the city contracted with Orion Security Services, based in San Jose. The security company provides unarmed private security officers to monitor Poplar and Redondo beaches from around 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. The officers also have the responsibility of locking the gates for the parking lots, a duty previously handled by Sheriff’s deputies.
“They have been good at providing education,” Chidester said. “They proactively make contact with folks and let them know the gates will be closing, or, if they see people with firewood or large coolers, reminding them of the city’s codes.”
For Maller, who lives close to Poplar Beach, the role of the security guards seems less clear. “There is a lot of miscommunication on how things are handled,” Maller said. “When we call the Sheriff’s Office, their response is they try and get ahold of the security guard before they send deputies out.”
Maller said he recently called to learn the security guard was at Redondo Beach and wouldn’t return for another 30 minutes.
“As long as there is not enforcement, word gets out and then everyone knows this is the ‘cool beach,’” Maller said.
San Mateo County Sheriff’s Capt. Saul Lopez said there were 75 calls for service at the beach since the first week of July.
“There has been a slight increase in calls for security compared to years prior,” Lopez said. “The security company has been good about calling us to go out.”
Lopez also stated the Sheriff’s Office is still looking to purchase an off-road vehicle, such as one manufactured by Polaris.
“There is a formal vetting process we have to do, but it is still in the works,” Lopez said.
The city has spent $20,000 on the contract with the security company to date, and, according to Chidester, the services have been helpful in educating people about what is prohibited at the beach. The security guards do not write citations; they are “the eyes and ears to contact the Sheriff’s deputies,” Chidester said.
Chidester said the contract ends at the end of the September, but “we will continue some level of security for an additional period of time because we feel it’s been effective.”
To assist with keeping the beaches and parking lots clean, the city’s Public Works Department has assigned staff to work on the weekends throughout the summer. Public Works Director John Doughty said he intends to end that arrangement in about a month. Doughty said this year he’s received fewer phone calls about the trash at Poplar Beach. Additionally, the city’s continued partnership with nonprofit Abundant Grace has assisted with trash pickup along the beaches and Coastal Trail. Doughty also said his office has acquired an off-road vehicle to use for trash pickup and maintenance on the beach.
Chidester said he expects a similar plan for enforcement will happen next summer.
“We are going to take what we learned and find ways to apply it on an ongoing basis, with some of it being seasonal,” Chidester said. “We found worthwhile investments to make the beach clean and welcoming for everybody.”
For his part, nearby resident Maller would like to see greater effort.
“I do appreciate the city is trying to do something,” Maller said, “but I do not really see much improvement.”