Residents around Poplar Beach have had enough of the trash, the noise, the rude behavior of far too many (but by no means all) visitors to the city of Half Moon Bay’s only beachfront. Every Monday dawns to piles of trash and still-smoldering coals of illegal bonfires that burned the night before.
Recently, these long-suffering city residents have pleaded with the Half Moon Bay City Council, looking for some solution to the public nuisance. The city got the message and now we hope it doesn’t go too far, spending too much on security that ultimately makes the beach uninviting to everyone.
City officials took promising first steps to address the situation through the summer. They added Saturday and Sunday staffing for the Public Works Department so that someone can deal with overflowing trash cans at the beach. The city coordinated with Republic Services for more timely trash collection. It expanded a popular program that works with Abundant Grace to provide trash removal and critical jobs for some low-income local residents. The city also promised to look at volunteer monitors or some nonprofit involvement.
Less promising are proposals for greater enforcement on the beach. These suggestions, while well-meaning, would prove costly, take law enforcement away from other pressing concerns and change the nature of a visit to the beach.
Of particular concern is a proposal to pay for private security at the beach from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., when presumably the most obnoxious behavior occurs. A city staff report suggests this private security guard would alert the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to “deleterious activities” as well as when cars remain in the lot after closing time. The guard would also lock the gate at sundown, a task that Sheriff’s deputies perform now on a less-than-perfect schedule.
The Sheriff’s Office is also looking into purchase of an ATV dune buggy that would be equipped like a law enforcement vehicle. This seems like overkill. There are jurisdictional issues, given the nearby state parkland, and, so far at least, no one is talking about additional staff to operate the vehicle. We would need to know more about crime patterns and staffing to know whether it made sense to dedicate a deputy for beach duty.
We’re also concerned about the way the problem has been characterized. The city’s staff report suggests unruly teenagers are often the culprits, adding that the city and Sheriff’s Office will reach out to schools on the coast and beyond to remind students how to behave on area beaches. Good luck with that. It also states, “Increasingly, Poplar Beach has become a meeting spot for groups coming from bayside communities.” While that sounds ominous, we should remember that these visitors from over the hill are also known as “visitors” who are vital to the financial health of the community. By California law, the beach is as much theirs as it is ours.
We don’t want to turn Poplar Beach into a heavily patrolled money pit that simply drives the partiers a mile or two north or south. We also understand that some people simply won’t police themselves nor pack out what they haul onto the beach. It’s a problem we could make worse if we aren’t careful.