Monday night was almost a reunion for the Pacifica City Council. Jim Vreeland, long absent, attended. Councilman Pete DeJarnatt did not, however, and was excused.
Councilman Vreeland said his prior were due to medical issues.
“Thanks to the community for the support they’ve shown me in the last few months and thank you to the council, too,” he said during council communications when he told the public why he had been gone. “I’ve been dealing with some medical issues lately. Everything is fine now. I’m certainly glad to be back. From my family, thank you. You have to deal with what you’ve been dealt, but I’m looking forward to the budget discussions in the next few months.”
He amended that statement by saying that he did not exactly look forward to the budget discussions because they would be difficult.
Councilwoman Mary Ann Nihart welcomed Vreeland back, as did many community members who stood to speak during the meeting.
Some, however, sought to chastise the councilman for his spree of absences.
“You don’t realize your value until you’re missed, when you’re absent,” said Bernie Siffry, a Pacifica resident. “And people were concerned about you, Jim, in your absence, and constantly bombarded others: ‘What’s doing with Jim Vreeland?’”
Therese Dyer, another resident, said she believes Vreeland ought to pay back the portion of the council salary he accrued while absent.
“This is my third time [saying this]: The thirteen absences of Mr. Vreeland, what good are those? I want to put an ordinance in place for all our elected officials and city employees who are negligent and cost the taxpayers money in this city to pay it back. A lot of this wasted money could be going to this Historical Society.”
Tension at Monday night’s meeting really ratcheted up when the council took another look at staff recommendations for a Western Snowy Plover Protection Plan at Pacifica State Beach (Linda Mar), however.
The plan originated from a subcommittee of the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission and the Open Space Committee that was formed in Aug. 2009 to address the issue of protecting a part of Pacifica State Beach that is important to the endangered plover’s mating cycle. The plan would help shield the land from human foot traffic and predators, such as dogs. In Nov. 2010 the council made a few modifications to the plan and returned it to staff for more work.
The subcommittee members were August Murphy, of the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission, Julie Hartsell of the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission, Noel Blincoe of the Open Space Committee, Victor Carmichael of the Open Space Committee, Beverly Kingsbury of POOCH, a local dog owner advocacy group and Clark Natwick of the Pacifica Environmental Family and Pacifica Beach Coalition.
The plan that was presented to council Monday night includes the following protective measures, verbatim:
- The Crespi Drive path from the Community Center parking lot passes through the area frequented by the plovers. Use symbolic (cable through eyes in metal posts) along the path to point foot traffic directly south out toward the area to the south.
- Install and maintain low but impassable fencing along the beach side of the bicycle path to discourage entry to the beach away from the primary beach access point.
- Enforce regulations prohibiting off-leash dogs, drinking, littering, fires, overnight camping, etc. and discourage the feeding of wildlife on the beach and provide predator-proof trash receptacles.
- Develop and implement training programs for enforcement personnel and others who work in the snowy plover roosting habitat.
- Provide informational signage and public outreach (flyer similar to GGNRA’s) to discourage human behavior that creates excessive disturbance.
- Encourage the continued work of volunteer groups in the efforts to remove invasive non-native beach plants and to replant native plant species of the upper beach and coastal strand plant community.
- Provide informational signage at the north parking lot and the Crespi entrance as well as other appropriate areas regarding plovers (including showing the plover habitat) and provide information on what the public can do to reduce actual and potential impacts to the local plover population.
- Post clear signage at access points on Pacifica State Beach about dog regulations and fencing and prohibiting littering or feeding wildlife.
- Establish a local working group, which could create a docent program for plover protection.
- 10. Place educational and regulatory signs, with penalties for violations listed, on the west side of the dunes to designate the sensitive plover area. Consider possible location for a [symbolic] fence line on the west side of the dunes.
- Strict enforcement of leash law.
- Allow dogs on leash, per current law, on all area of the beach, except for the designated snowy plover habitat.
- Continue regulating of special events through the existing permit process, highlighting the protection of the plovers. No structures north of the south edge of Crespi Drive.
- Restrict fireworks from the snowy plover area; and encourage activities that include kites, Frisbees and ball throwing to done away from the snow plover area.
According to city staff, there are two options for the fencing along the beach side of the walking and biking trail. In one option, the fencing would run all the way from the north Linda Mar parking lot past Crespi Drive, while the other would only include fencing from Crespi drive north. The latter option is preferred by staff and would cost $68,250 to implement.
The plan would also add restrictions and requirements to an existing list for events at Pacifica State Beach. They are:
1) Contest tents, booths and structures must be set up from north to south, parallel to the water, in a linear fashion. The contest “footprint” should be a minimum of 30 feet from the established plover signage boundary on the west side of the dunes.
2) Vehicles used for set-up must also adhere to a minimum of 30 feet from the established plover signage boundary on the west side of the dunes.
This plan will be taken to the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Coastal Commission for their input before returning again to the city council, which will then work out the details of implementing it.
When the floor was given to the public to make comment, members of the subcommittee stood to rebuke it for a number of reasons.
They questioned the ability of city staff to develop a protection plan for the snowy plover, why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not been consulted a long time ago on what to do about the habitat and why there was no symbolic fencing on the beach between plover habitat and the ocean required in this plan.
Such a fence, perhaps a movable one, was required in the subcommittee’s recommendations from 2009:
“Install and maintain symbolic fencing (cable through eyes in metal posts) on the upper beach parallel to the water line in the vicinity of the primary roosting area, between the Crespi Drive path and the dry creek bed near the north end of the beach, to provide an area of minimal disturbance for the roosting flock. Details on the fencing need to be worked out – how it is moved and specific location. The location of the fence running North-South on beach was not agreed upon.”
But, according to Nihart, when the subcommittee’s recommendations were returned to the Open Space Committee and Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission for approval, the groups could not come to an agreement about the above items and it was only included as “to be considered” by the time a plan reached council.
A fence west of the dunes also does not appear in the maps detailing the layout of an implemented plan or in staff’s cost estimates for the project.
Subcommittee members also complained about the fact that event vehicles would be allowed north of Crespi Drive.
“Staff has given the green light in their new recommendation for vehicles and events to set up north of Crespi and no symbolic fencing. They should contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Noel Blincoe. “I’m sorry, but staff has shown itself to be less than competent. They don’t have the training to work out a full Snowy Plover management program. We need to turn to those who know what they are doing. This would be a real budget savings, bringing experienced people [from Fish and Wildlife] in commenting on what good things would be.”
Clark Natwick seconded Blincoe.
“I’d like to add my voice to the recommendations that Noel Blincoe just made and to his evaluation of the competency of the staff in some of their recommendations,” he said. “One example, in Item 2, Exhibit A [see attached staff report], it refers to a dry creek. This is in the north end of our state beach. I don’t believe that’s a dry creek; it’s a seasonal creek. This is a small example of the lack of competency in dealing with this issue. As it was recommended, by Noel, the Fish and Wildlife Service should be brought in as quickly as possible in protecting the Snowy Plover according to a recovery plan put out by Fish and Wildlife.”
Councilman Vreeland refuted the assertion that bringing in a federal government agency to develop a plan would be free for Pacifica or that it would be a cost savings at all. It would cost staff time to do a back-and-forth with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, he said. He also said he did not like how speakers were talking about staff, especially not how they were referring to their “incompetency.”
Other members of the public thought that something should be done right away to protect the plovers and that this plan was a good starting point.
August Murphy, who was on the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission and who served on the subcommittee that developed the original plover plan for 9 months, was among them.
“I’m surprised to hear them say ‘stop everything, go to the feds,’” he said. “This is something we can do. We can consult with the feds and tweak our plans as the feds give us input, but so long and nothing has been done, they’re [the plovers are] just out there being stomped on or whatever. We can’t wait for something else. Let’s agree on starting and doing something, and as we need it, more consultation from the fed, but let’s not put a halt to the whole process."
Former Councilwoman Julie Lancelle, who commissioned the subcommittee to make the original plan, also urged council to approve this plan.
“Unfortunately there has been conflict within the [sub]committee and certainly that has come out this evening,” she said. “Meanwhile the plovers have no protection, nothing is implemented while humans disagree among themselves as to what’s in their [the plovers’] best interest. I ask council to move with what’s before them and begin the process.”
Following the public testimony, the council weighed in on the plan.
Mary Ann Nihart was first to say that no matter what recommendations the council approved on Monday night, there was no money in the city budget to pay for any of them.
She also said that she never had any other idea than that the council would approve a plan that would then be vetted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as opposed to the city going to the agency before approving a plan.
Councilman Len Stone also questioned where the money for any plan would come from.
City Manager Stephen Rhodes said that there was indeed no money in the city coffers to fund this plan, but that staff could research grants, possible through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that could be used to pay for it.
Councilwoman Sue Digre was the most dissatisfied with the plan presented by staff at Monday night’s meeting.
“I reread the minutes [from Nov. 2010] and I’m thinking I’m more confused then when I hadn’t read them,” she said. “We did want additional data so that we could make decisions, whether or not we had the money. I was expecting more data, more information from other places, more meat to what is meant by habitat protection.”
She also said that the city council had asked staff to consider a possible location for a symbolic or flexible fence west of the dunes that make up the plovers’ habitat. Such a consideration was not on the maps included with this proposal.
Digre said that, to her understanding, staff was to go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for consultation before bringing a plan back to council.
She concluded by stating that staff should consult with Fish and Wildlife as soon as possible and investigate the possibility of a symbolic or flexible fence west of the dunes.
“I encourage the council not to give up on flexible fencing,” she said.
Councilman Vreeland wrapped things up by saying the first course of action after the city council’s approval of these recommendations would be to go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Thanks everybody for coming and sharing their thoughts on this, and thanks to staff for putting together this report,” he said. “I have a Master’s degree in this, I’m not an expert on birds, but I understand how coastal systems work. They’re very dynamic systems and the process has been very dynamic as well. City manager, if we approve this tonight one of the first calls we’ll make is to the fish and wildlife to find out what their opinion is.”
The council approved staff’s recommendations for the Western Snowy Plover Protection Plan 4 to 0 with Councilman DeJarnatt excused.
Nihart said Tuesday night that council did not approve the actual construction of fencing at Pacifica State Beach, that signs are posted, or any other part of the recommendations. She also stressed that council did not approve that any city money be spent on this plan.