Volume 8, Issue 77  |  September 26, 2023SubscribeAdvertise

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Study session on snowy plover management focuses on fencing, walkway, habitat restoration


A study session on the Western Snowy Plover Management Plan this week focused on fencing and a paved walkway, and how to maintain the balance of habitat restoration, protection of the endangered birds and public access.

At City Council’s Tuesday (Feb. 28) meeting, staff shared a presentation outlining the draft plan for eastern Balboa Peninsula beaches and the status of the coastal development permit application.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion revolved around keeping the E Street walkway, not removing it as proposed in the draft plan.

“I’m just uber sensitive to the E Street walkway,” said Councilmember Joe Stapleton. 

A lot of locals utilize that walkway, he noted, saying he just got an email from a resident who has a handicap daughter that uses the paved path.

Public access is typically an important issue to the California Coastal Commission, added Mayor Noah Blom. 

“I’m fairly amazed that they want us to get rid of public access in order to preserve a habitat for the birds that seem to be, historically, doing better,” he said. 

Installing some fencing will likely do a better job at keeping people out of the area than removing the walkway, Councilmember Erik Weigand said. 

“I do think some signage will be helpful,” Weigand said, the examples don’t seem overly restrictive and, along with the fencing, it should be enough to keep out the e-bikes and wandering pedestrians with “errant behavior.”

There’s wiggle room to compromise on a lot of this, he added. What the CCC is asking for is a lot and it’s expensive, he noted, but it can be done without too much of an impact on people who enjoy the area. It’s not a heavily trafficked part of the Peninsula, he said, it’s mostly locals and the junior guards. 

Looking at it holistically, Blom said the city could negotiate and agree to block off the area, but to do so the city needs to increase the surface area out on the beach, Blom said.

“Expanding that habitat by creating more sand for both the public and the plover would be beneficial to the city and the Coastal Commission,” he said. 

Stapleton questioned where the direction to do this project was coming from.

“It seems like we’re being incredible stewards of the beach down there and we’re doing so much as it is. I can’t imagine there are a lot of communities going to the kind of effort that we are,” he said. 

It’s generated by the California Coastal Commission, answered Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis. 

This is the third draft of the CDP application. It was submitted in July 2022 to the California Coastal Commission for review. The application has been deemed complete and is expected to be heard at a CCC hearing later in the year.

They’ve been working on the for about six years, Jurjis noted. 

“We’re getting really close to getting an actual hearing set with the California Coastal Commission,” he said. 

From a staff standpoint, they have some concerns after getting feedback from the CCC on certain elements of the plan, Jurjis said. 

Those concerns include the CCC-suggested seasonal dog prohibition, the popular recreational area between B and C streets within the critical habitat area, and the beach area between G Street and the Wedge where the city uses heavy equipment, explained Senior Planner Chelsea Crager.

Study session on snowy plover management bird on beach

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Peter Pearsall/USFWS

Western snowy plover is considered a “threatened” species and is protected under the Endangered Species Act

The conservation plan is to protect the little bird that calls the area home, she said.

The small shorebird is found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean from Baja California to Washington. A population of WSP live on the Balboa Peninsula between B Street and the Wedge (a distance of more than one mile), for most of the year. They camouflage pretty well in the sand, Crager said, and often nest in footprints or tire tracks. 

Newport Beach is not the only city to have a conservation plan, Crager explained, noting that several cities up and down the coast have developed or are working on similar programs. 

Since 1993, the WSP has been listed as a “threatened” species and is federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Under the ESA, the Balboa Peninsula area is designated a critical habitat by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Management and protection of the habitat is an important part of the USFWS’ recovery plan that aims to increase the WSP population and meet specific criteria to one day remove them from the threatened species list.

Newport Beach started monitoring the area between B Street and the Wedge in 2009, Crager said. USFWS suggested the city install fencing, which was placed in sections in 2011 and 2017.

The fencing was intended to help delineate and recognize the critical habitat area and to help minimize and protect the area from pets, human activities and vehicles, according to staff. 

After some residents reported a loss of ocean views, some of the original fencing was removed due to visual impacts, Crager explained.

The city began to remove the fencing, but a complaint was filed with the Coastal Commission that a coastal development permit was not obtained for the removal of the fence. The city submitted a CDP application to the CCC to remove the fencing in June 2017, but it was deemed incomplete pending the submittal of a management plan for the entire area. 

To help develop the plan, the city hired a biologist and held community outreach meetings, Crager said. There have been several iterations of the plan as city staff worked to address the comments provided by CCC staff, including adding a dune restoration plan.

“It grew over time,” as the application went back and forth between CCC and city staff, she noted. 

The most recent draft plan was submitted in July 2022, was deemed complete and will be considered by the CCC at an upcoming meeting.

Currently, the fencing remains in place but is deteriorating.

Key components of the plan include education and outreach, adaptive management implementation, predator management beach operation and recreation management, critical habitat and avian conservation area delineation, and adaptive management triggers and performance standards.

Details of the components include: Cooperation with community partners; monitoring and reporting the efficacy of the program; restoration of areas of degraded coastal dune habitat (includes removal of the E Street concrete walkway); controlling litter on the beaches to reduce the presence of potential predators such as rats, cats and corvids; guidelines for city operations to minimize potential impacts to the WSP; discouraging pedestrian-through access in the habitat area through educational efforts; symbolic fencing to delineate boundary lines for sensitive areas without impeding public access; interpretive, educational and regulatory signs and sidewalk icons and reports to the CCC for five years. 

The plan also includes a low, 24-inch-tall permanent fencing to be placed around the critical habitat area, Crager explained. In addition, the plan also calls for temporary seasonal 36-inch fencing during the birds’ wintering period (October 1 through March 31, annually). The location of the seasonal fencing could also move each year depending on where the birds are observed, she noted. 

Costs would include the initial implementation (adding fencing and signage, and dune restoration work) and ongoing maintenance (hiring a biologist to monitor the birds, education and public outreach, equipment operations and staffing). The total expected cost is about $1 million for the implementation and $300,000 for yearly operations. 

The city will report to the CCC for five years, and what happens after that will likely be determined by what the numbers look like and if the plan has been successful or not, Crager said. 

Study session on snowy plover management signage rendering

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering courtesy of City of Newport Beach

A rendering of what the signage and fencing could potentially look like

Most of the public speakers on Tuesday requested that new fencing not be installed and that the E Street walkway remain intact. Several called the fencing an eyesore. 

Local resident David Look lives near the E Street walkway and looks out at the beach area often. There are a lot of birds and very few people, he said, so there’s no need for fencing. Let the people who live there keep their view, he urged. 

“I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve seen even walk through that area. So putting up a fence there is insane,” Look said. “This is totally unnecessary. Since the fences have been removed, I see the birds having more freedom, being able to move around.”

The city is spending money on a problem that doesn’t exist, he said. In the five years that he’s lived there, the birds are “thriving.” They appear to have doubled, he added. 

At the end of the discussion, Blom reminded the audience that this was a study session. They weren’t there to make mandates, they were there to discuss the program and hear concerns and comments from the public. This doesn’t mean they want “fences everywhere” or to “destroy the beaches or your view,” he added. 

“We’re reacting to things that are in the past and our job is to look for the future,” Blom said. “We’re here dealing with California, which is a very different entity, trying to figure out the best way to mitigate what they’re putting on us.”

That’s why they brought it forward in a study session, he added. They’re not trying to make drastic changes, he emphasized, it’s about dealing with the situation the best way they can and coming up with a solution.

“I think we have done an amazing job taking care of these beaches, and it’s why you guys love them so much. And I think staff is fighting for that same thing,” Blom said. “Staff is trying to find creative and beautiful ways to figure out a solution to this.” 


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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