Shell Beach homeowners win appeal for bluff bike path reroute



Residents of multi-million-dollar homes along Shell Beach’s scenic bluffs continue to battle local outdoor enthusiasts, and it looks like they’ve won the latest scuffle with a little help from the Pismo Beach City Council.

The council voted 3-1 to direct staff to move forward with a plan to reroute a popular bicycle path that passes along Bluff Drive, a gated community of multi-million-dollar homes.

The project, proposed by The Bluffs Homeowners Association was initially denied by the Pismo Beach Planning Commission in July, and appealed to the council shortly thereafter. Mayor Shelly Higginbotham and councilmembers Ed Waage and Mary Ann Reiss voted in favor of the appeal. Councilmember Sheila Blake was the lone dissenting vote. Councilmember Erik Howell was absent.

Bluffs HOA President Larry Rose said the homeowners proposed the project due to worries that the current bicycle path entrance, a gate located on Indio Drive in front of the entrance to the housing development on Bluff Drive, was a safety hazard.

“I think it’s a better solution than what we have now,” Rose told members of the council at a Sept. 6 meeting.

Under the proposed plan, the current gate on Indio Drive would be closed, and a section of a new bike path would be constructed linking an adjacent public parking lot to Bluff Drive. Despite Rose’s claims that rerouting the current path would be safer, some Pismo residents noted that the parking lot was currently an access point not only for vehicles, but for pedestrians using the bluffs walking trail. Len Essig said he believed mixing bicyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles in the small parking lot was bound to result in people getting hurt.

“You’re gonna have an accident. You’re gonna have damage. You’re gonna have legal trouble,” Essig told the council. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The spat over moving the bike route is the latest in a series of disputes over access to the coastal land and beaches near the subdivision. Although Bluff Drive is a private street, a recorded easement allows public access along its entire length, enabling visitors to use it to access the bluffs and Pirates Cove Beach. In February, the California Coastal Commission sent a stern warning letter to the HOA and the city of Pismo Beach after “keep out” and “no trespassing” signs appeared along the bluffs trail in front of the housing development.

Many, including some of the residents who attended the Sept. 6 meeting, believe that the HOA’s proposal to move the bike path is an attempt to chip away at the public’s access to the bluffs. 

“There is absolutely no public benefit to this project,” Tarren Collins, a local attorney, told the council. “Don’t let [them] pull the wool over your eyes.”

The initial proposal for the project did include modifications to the public access easement language, but the council directed staff to remove it and add additional language to their approval of the appeal that would make it clear that the public access would remain. The council will vote to approve the project at its next meeting.

While it appears the rerouting project will move forward, it can still be appealed to the California Coastal commission. In July, the commission sent a letter to the city of Pismo Beach stating that it opposed the project. 

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