Thursday, July 16, 1998
When Sand City dedicated its new coastal bicycle path a few weeks ago, it was another chapter in a dream come true for some-a recreational trail providing public access to the coast and spectacular views of Monterey Bay. Whether that dream will go beyond the county line is anyone''s guess.
The trail, just west of Highway I from Fremont Avenue to Tioga Avenue, is the latest segment to be constructed in the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, part of the California Coastal Trail envisioned by the California Coastal Conservancy since the agency''s birth in 1976.
"The Coastal Trail was a long-term undertaking," says Joan Cardellino, program manager for the Coastal Conservancy. "The vision was a continuous network of trails border to border."
That vision was born in the California Coastal Plan of 1975, a continuous trail system connecting parks, beaches, trails, bicycle routes and hostels, all designed to provide public access to and along California''s 1,100-mile coast. Today, that trail is only about half finished. The longest continuous section is the 120-mile Redwood Coastal Trail in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. There is no scheduled completion date for the California Coastal Trail.
The Coastal Conservancy exists to improve public access to coastal lands, protect and enhance coastal resources and protect agricultural lands. To meet its objective of public access to the coast, it funds property acquisition and trail construction and provides technical assistance for projects like the coastal trail. Although roughly half the California coastline was in public ownership when the program started, about half was in private hands, including military bases owned by the federal government but not open for public use. To date, the Conservancy counts more than 630 projects it has undertaken along the coast. All the projects require money.
"It''s really been underfunded the past five years. We try to leverage our money as much as we can by entering into partnership with local sponsors. They contribute whatever they can," says Cardellino.
In Monterey County, local sponsors have done more than that. "Often, issues pit jurisdictions against each other," says Tony Lobay, community development director for the city of Pacific Grove. "The recreation trail from Castroville to Carmel is one of those things [around which] people have come together. It unites communities. Anything that enlarges the trail is something we''ve all supported."
Development of the coastal trail in Monterey County has joined various agencies at different times. The latest effort spearheaded by Sand City has also involved the cities of Seaside and Monterey, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District and state parks since 1992. The newly dedicated path is the first phase of a trail that will continue along Sand Dunes Drive, cross under the freeway at Canyon Del Rey to Roberts and connect to the Monterey Recreation Trail. Except for sharing a short section of roadway as it circles Roberts Lake, the path will be separate and paved--what is classified as a Class 1 trail.
Construction of the remaining portion will start in late September and should be completed by late December, according to Stan Kulakow, city engineer and public works director for Sand City. Also in the fall, landscaping on the already completed section will begin, using native plants to provide erosion control. All construction has been timed around the nesting season of endangered bird species inhabiting the dunes area.
Kulakow puts the project cost at about $1.7 million. All the monies for the project came from grants from programs aimed at reducing pollutants, hence the bike path designation. Of the total cost, $1.38 million came from Caltrans; $150,000 from the Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC); and $174,000 from two grants from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District. Maintenance is the responsibility of the cities and the cost is still uncertain, says Kulakow.
This type of effort is not new to the story of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, which began in 1978. Lobay recounts that the cities of Pacific Grove and Monterey and the park district first got together in an attempt to buy abandoned Southern Pacific tracks to create a recreation trail. A joint powers agency was created to seek funding and acquire right of way from Monterey''s Custom House Plaza to Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. Almost $2.6 million later, most of it from the park district and the rest from mostly government revenue sources, the purchase was accomplished. About $385,000 more went into development costs before the trail opened in 1984. Again, the funds came from a variety of sources, including park district and city general funds, gas tax and bicycle funds.
While he can''t tell you exactly what it cost, Lobay does call it a "relatively small expenditure when you consider the benefit the public gets. We envisioned a recreational opportunity that included historical and cultural aspects as well as the natural resources of Monterey Bay. The overwhelming majority of the people," he adds, "were in support of it and saw the tremendous benefit."
Pacific Grove doesn''t track the trail''s maintenance costs, reports Steve Leiker, city public works director. "The trail is a jewel-the city recognizes that. It''s not difficult to maintain." The biggest problem, he says, is erosion, caused by pounding surf. "We may need to look at a sea wall or rock revetment to stabilize the banks."
Nor has Pacific Grove estimated how many people use the trail, other than "a lot." Since 1992, the city of Monterey has taken a count on one day a year at the same location near Cannery Row. Volunteers count bikers, walkers, joggers and even baby strollers going in both directions in the morning and in the afternoon. The 1998 high count of the day approaches 1,000 in a two-hour period. To serve these numbers, Monterey budgets just over $107,500 for annual maintenance of the recreation trail, reports Doug Stafford, parks superintendent.
Two capital projects are also slated for later this year. Improvements at the Lighthouse Avenue curve include trail widening, new lighting, landscaping and replacement of the asphalt with decomposed granite; budgeted funding of $265,000 includes $19,450 from the general fund and the balance from federal sources. Shoreline Park landscaping improvements are already under construction at a cost of $150,000 to the general fund.
From Lovers Point west, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail becomes a Class 3 trail, with only signs along the roadway, to Point Pi¤os, where it becomes a Class 2 trail, a paved and signed bike lane adjoining the roadway, along Ocean View Boulevard to Asilomar. The park district is already working on funding the trail from Asilomar to the gate at Pebble Beach, notes Gary Tate, general manager of the park district and the one person who others often credit with overall development of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.
Through the Del Monte Forest and Pebble Beach, there is a Class 2 trail along 17 Mile Drive to the Robert Louis Stevenson School. From here to the Carmel gate will likely be designated a Class 3 trail due to the narrow road. Plans are in the works, says Tate, to designate a Class 2 trail along Scenic Road and down to Rio Park.
Plans also call for a Class 1 trail with a new bridge crossing from Rio Park through State park property to the Cross, a local landmark built in the shape of a cross on a knoll in the Carmel River Lagoon State Beach. From the Cross, the existing Class 1 Coastal Bluff Trail runs to Bay School at the boundary of the Point Lobos State Reserve. "We have $260,000," says Tate. "This is enough for the bridge crossing and to build the trail out to the Cross."
The district generally handles the land acquisition, explains Tate, "then the cities play the main role in development and day-to-day maintenance." The district''s jurisdiction extends from Marina to Big Sur, so it interfaces with all the other entities in the area.
Jere Kersnar, Carmel''s city administrator, confirms that talks are in progress between the city, the park district and the Archdiocese of Monterey to acquire the property needed to complete the bridge crossing. What little of the trail goes through Carmel itself involves the beach walk and some on-street trail. "Our emphasis is on completion of the coastal trail," says Kersnar. "It''s now a pedestrian trail and I don''t know yet if we will have bike lanes. We don''t have a lot of bike riders in town and topography is a problem."
The trail north of Sand City has a few gaps to fill as well. The existing Class 1 bike path through what was Fort Ord is open to the public, running to Marina and then along Del Monte to the Salinas River. The former Fort Ord property west of Highway 1 is slated to become new park when this land is transferred to the state, probably in about a year. Although the area is already served by paved road, state parks resource planner Ken Gray hopes funds will become available to develop family campsites in addition to a day use area and also provide a new bike trail further removed from the highway. "The potential for a separate alignment away from traffic would make for a more pleasant experience, " explains Gray.
That leaves the Salinas River to Castroville. "We will have a future Class 2 or 3 trail to Castroville," says Tate. "It still needs funding."
When the final links are in place, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail will run the full distance from Castroville to Point Lobos. "It''s become one of the most popular recreation trails in California, if not the US," says Tate. "It''s more successful than ever anticipated."
When and if the recreational traveler will be able to continue north or south beyond Castroville or Point Lobos on a state-long coastal trail remains to be seen. Other than topography in areas like Big Sur, the obstacle has been money. "Funding came mostly from bond acts," according to Cardellino. The last park bond act was passed by voters in 1988. "These funds have been spent. There''s been little funding since that time." She adds that the governor''s proposed budget recommends about $5.75 million for public access and all other Coastal Conservancy programs. "We don''t know yet how it will settle out."
Also recommended in the state budget is continued funding for a one-year-old Coastal Resources Grant Program, says Chris Potter, conservancy project development analyst. Of the total $3.598 million, however, only $600,000 is designated for coastal projects; the remainder is for projects that mitigate offshore energy activities.
Assemblyman Fred Keeley (D-Boulder Creek) serves on the budget conference committee and says he''ll "be an advocate for it. I''ve been a strong advocate for coastal resources, including public access." What is really needed, he says, is to "replenish the funding sources for the Coastal Conservancy and other pots of money traditionally used for coastal protection and resource enhancement." To that end, his bill, AB1000, has already passed the Assembly and is set for Senate committee hearing this month. If passed and signed by the governor, the bill will place a $650 million bond issue for coastal protection on the November ballot.
"Development of the Coastal Trail has been uneven," says Keeley. "Some communities do well, some don''t. It all depends on their ability to make a commitment of local resources and their ability to bring in other funding, such as the Coastal Conservancy, Packard Foundation, Santa Cruz County Land Trust and Big Sur Land Trust." He adds, "The best approach is to pass a bond issue." cw