Thursday, February 21, 2013
Ed Ghandour’s 39-acre, beachfront Sand City property consists mostly of the pitted remnants of an old sand mine. It also includes the dune known to locals as “Scribble Hill” – a de facto billboard facing northbound Fremont Avenue and Highway 1, where taggers can carve fleeting declarations of love or sports logos into the sand, no spray paint necessary.
Ghandour’s development company, Security National Guaranty, proposes to build a hotel and conference center called Monterey Bay Shores Ecoresort on this windswept plot. But 20 years into that effort, the only ground he’s broken is with no-trespassing signs.
Now, even those are caught up in red tape.
“We’ve had signs on and off down there forever,” Ghandour says. “We do it for security reasons, and health and safety for the public as well.”
The signs were recently removed after someone brought them to the California Coastal Commission’s attention, according to Sand City Associate Planner Charles Pooler. Commission staff told the city the signs require a coastal development permit.
So Ghandour officially requested the city’s permission to install six red-and-white “No Trespassing/Private Property” signs, some of them stating that violators will be prosecuted, others that the beach is also off-limits.
The Sand City City Council was set to consider the permit Feb. 19, but the item was continued to March 5.
Mike Watson, the commission’s coastal programs analyst, suggested the city approve only three earth-toned signs and soften the language to something like “Private Property – Please Keep Off.”
The sign request, quibbling as it may seem, touches on the bigger issue of public beach access, as discussed in email exchanges between Ghandour, Watson and Pooler.
Ghandour claims his private property includes the beach and is excluded from the public trust doctrine. In an email to Pooler, Watson bluntly disagrees.
“It appears [the signs] are intended to impede and interfere with lateral beach access between Fort Ord State Park and points south,” Watson writes. “The property owner claims he has a land grant which grants him ownership of the beach. Mexican land grant or no, there is clear evidence of consistent, unopposed use of this stretch of coast by the public over decades.”
The California Coastal Act preserves public beach access along the shoreline, according to a Feb. 8 city staff report, and Watson warns that signs indicating otherwise could subject the city’s decision to an appeal.
Pooler, who wrote the report, recommends approval of the toned-down signs. “I understand where the property owner’s coming from,” he says. “If somebody gets hurt, what kind of position does that put him in?”
But Ghandour’s got bigger tasks ahead in pursuing his resort. The Coastal Commission rejected the project’s coastal development permit in 2009, in part due to environmental issues including coastal erosion and sea-level rise.
Ghandour says he entered into settlement discussions with the commission and, after 18 months of negotiation, reached a draft agreement. The details are confidential, he says, “but I can tell you at the last minute, two commissioners nixed it.”
Commission staff could not be reached by deadline. The case is pending in San Francisco Superior Court.
Ghandour, 20 years in, is still optimistic: “We are really ready and committed to get going with this.”