Council discusses Connelly Beach |

Council discusses Connelly Beach

Jack Barnwell

South Lake Tahoe city officials said Tuesday progress has been made on increasing public access to Connelly Beach behind Tahoe Beach Retreat and Lodge.

City Attorney Tom Watson said the city was working with the current property owner, Urbana Realty Advisors, LLC to determine the exact conditions for public access to a portion of the beach and to the state-owned portion between the water and the high water mark.

Urbana allows limited access to a portion of its private beach from June through September.

Public access has been debated for some time, something that Watson said stemmed from a 1972 proposed motel development.

Prior to that and the city’s incorporation in 1965, the public had access to Connelly beach and the pier.

Watson said as part of the proposed motel, the developer had to provide 18 public parking spaces and 100-foot of beach area for public use from the high water mark. The developer later filed a lawsuit to eliminate the beach portion.

A 1985 settlement established that high water mark at 6,229 feet above sea level to the water and below was a public trust easement owned by the state of California. Public has access to it year-round.

The parking spots were never part of the litigation.

While the city and Urbana Realty are working on an agreement, including clarifying the 100-foot summer grant, a recent topographic survey revealed that mark runs through improvements on the property itself.

Public Works Director Ray Jarvis said some of the proposed improvements include increased access from Bal Bijou Road by removing a gate and paving the drive way to the public parking area on the Beach Retreat property, clearly mark public parking spaces and provide appropriate signs identifying public access to the beach from Bal Bijou Road.

“The public does have a right and the state does have interest in easement and what we are trying to do is make access more direct,” Jarvis said.

There are two areas for public access. The public has year-round access between the high water mark at 6,229 feet and the water line. In addition, Urbana allows limited access a 100 feet beyond the high water mark from June 1 to Sept. 30.

He added the goal is to have it done by June 1 in order to accommodate seasonal access to the 100-foot area and to the state-owned portion.

“The beach would be added to our inventory of those available for public use,” Jarvis said. “We will continue to work with the property owners on the legal definition of where the public access is.”

Watson, the city attorney, stressed the 100-foot area between the high water mark and the actually property was still considered private property to which the public is granted access.

During the seasonal window, the public can use it and the property owner cannot block access. However, the property owner can block a portion of the beach to host things like weddings.

City Manager Nancy Kerry said there are a few disagreements, including where the actual boundary was located and the signs that establish those boundaries.

Kerry said that city-proposed signs were construed as “too governmental” and unwelcoming.

“They (the property owner) wanted them to be a little more welcoming, which is a good idea, so we’re trying to resolve what those two signs look like,” Kerry said.

Parking would also need to be addressed, especially if the public accesses the beach area during a high traffic season.

Chris Mertens, an associate environmental planner with California Tahoe Conservancy, said his agency appreciated the city’s efforts to maintain public interest.

However, Mertens said a CTC-owned parcel to the west of Beach Retreat and Lodge has been fenced off from the public portion of the beach.

He said the portion could be used as an alternative access point for trail users.

Susan Hoy, a South Lake Tahoe resident, stressed that Connelly Beach has always been a public one in her mind.

“Tahoe to me is sunrises, sunsets and going to the beach,” Hoy said. She said her recent trips past were greeted with signs that told her the ramifications of trespassing. More recently the sign was removed.

She stressed that signs need to go up in order to indicate what areas are available year-round and what can be accessed on a seasonal basis, especially for tourists.

Kerry, the city manager, said the city staff will continue to pursue additional talking points with Urbana Realty, especially on items brought up by the public. She added the matter also had other benefits.

“It certainly opened up the public’s awareness that they have access to every beach in Tahoe now that the waterline is so low,” Kerry said.

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