New rules coming to the aid of Tunitas Creek Beach

Tunitas Creek is a 6.6-mile-long stream that flows to the ocean through Tunitas Beach. Tunitas Creek Beach is a beautiful stretch of the California coast located just north of San Gregorio and Highway 84. Four sensitive habitat areas come together at this site, including the riparian corridor, sand dunes, marine habitat and habitats supporting rare, endangered and unique species, such as the coastal marsh milkvetch.

The beach, however, is under stress from unregulated human activity, prompting the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to take steps to ensure the safety of visitors while reducing impacts to the natural environment and neighboring community. At their June 6 meeting, the Board introduced an ordinance that aims to curb harmful behavior that puts people, wildlife and sensitive habitat at risk.

The beach itself is state land, but is not run by California State Parks. As a result, there are no amenities for visitors and access to the beach is limited. While long cherished as a quiet beach offering gorgeous views of the ocean and bluffs; in recent years, the beach has attracted large groups of overnight partiers who have had a significant impact on the beach. In fact, one recent beach party resulted in 15 bags of trash.

In addition to trash and human waste left on the beach, motorized vehicles have been accessing the beach via the Tunitas Creek channel, trees have been cut down for firewood and vegetation cleared for a homeless encampment, and there has been an increase in car break-ins and unsafe parking behavior.

Tunitas Creek is bearing the brunt of this behavior. Parts of the creek bank are eroding and there is increased sedimentation in the creek. Sensitive habitat is being trampled and aquatic life is being disturbed. The lack of a clear trail to the beach is also dangerous to visitors, who in some cases use a rope to descend the bluff. Other impacts include degraded water quality and threatened rare plant populations.

While all of this is cause for concern, there is hope and much to celebrate. Tunitas Creek Beach is a beautiful place that has many champions. The Pacifica Beach Coalition and TLC Locals are two groups that regularly organize beach cleanups at this site. San Mateo County is working with Peninsula Open Space Trust to acquire the land and eventually convert it into a park with bathrooms, trash cans and improved trail access. This will spur efforts to restore the natural environment and help threatened plant species thrive.

It will take some time to transform the beach into a new county park. The amenities must be in place first and every new property acquired by San Mateo County Parks requires ongoing attention and maintenance. In the meantime, the ordinance outlines prohibitions on overnight camping, bonfires, trash-dumping and illegal parking. The ordinance requires a second reading before it goes into effect.

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