The Madness At Fisherman’s Cove
This is the story of the almost laughable madness at Fisherman’s Cove.
I say “almost” because you either have to laugh or cry. It begins with Boat Canyon, which drains a small part of north Laguna’s coastal hills and outflows at Fisherman’s Cove.
The cove is tiny. Rocky points protect both ends, sheltering the cove from even the biggest ocean swells except those coming straight on. Protection from them is provided by a series of frontal reefs and big rocks, which dissipate big waves before they reach shore.
This means Fisherman’s Cove is a perfect place to keep and launch small fishing boats. Almost a century ago, that is exactly what happened and is how Boat Canyon and Fisherman’s Cove got their names. By then, dory boat fishermen were firmly entrenched, and the names were a natural.
Even today, there is a big empty lot next to the Cove. It falls gently from the street and levels off 15 feet above the beach. The early fishermen, to store their dory boats, widened the level area and built a boathouse there. The remains still exist.
After WWII, dory fishing became uneconomic. However, the empty lot continued to store watercraft for pleasure: little sailboats, rowboats, paddleboards, surfboards and the like. When I moved near there in the late 1980s, Hobie Cats dominated Fisherman’s, but they soon morphed into smaller catamarans, sailfish, tiny outboard motorboats and eventually kayaks.
Throughout, there has been a group of local regulars. Today, there are about 50 of them. They kayak, swim, SUP, surf, snorkel and hang out. You know you are a member of this informal club when you realize no one cares if you “borrow” one of the beach chairs, umbrellas, kayaks or SUPS, and maybe leave one of your own for others too.
There also is a wider group of semi-regulars, who bring friends or children to enjoy the “free” kayak rides. They simply show up and go paddling. No muss, no fuss. It has the informality of a bygone era and everyone loves it. I do not mean like it. They love it. It is one of those things making Laguna special.
On Oct. 1 of this year it all went to hell. It went to hell because one guy wanted to game the system and because our city’s bureaucracy proved dysfunctional in its response.
The guy, our “friend,” bought a vendor’s license to rent out kayaks and SUPs. The license provides that customers make appointments to use the kayaks and SUPs. Vendors cart them to the beach for the sessions, and then cart them back. What vendors cannot do is store or display equipment at a public beach; the beaches are for fun, not private profit.
Our dear local “friend” decided to game the system. He displayed his kayaks and SUPs on Fisherman’s beach anyway, as many as 15 of them crowding an already tiny area. If that was not bad enough, our “friend” decided to store his for-rent equipment on that flat lot.
The inevitable happened. A competitor complained to the city in writing. The complaint was a code enforcement issue and a code enforcement officer who saw the kayaks and ordered our “friend” to remove them.
Alas, if it had only ended there. But no, the code enforcement officer also saw all the other kayaks and SUPs. The code forbids storing stuff on a private empty lot. [That this law is inane of course does not matter.]
The code enforcement officer contacted the lot’s owner, an older gentleman who had inherited it decades prior, and did not much care about the kayaks.
This is where the city became both anal and heavy-handed and utterly clueless about the history of Fisherman’s. Code enforcement sent the owner a letter threatening to fine him daily if he did not rid his lot of the kayaks, SUPS and diverse equipment by Oct. 1. With no choice and no recourse, he did.
The city never investigated the history of the cove or note the ruins of the boathouse. The city did not consider the legal rights of the “public” to continue using the lot (and yes, such legal rights do exist). The city did not consider anything except its own narrow definition of the ordinance and its own narrow interpretation of how to enforce it.
None of the individuals at the city are to blame. They simply did their job within a bureaucracy that did what all bureaucracies do: extend their reach until dysfunctionality occurs.
It does not matter the explanation.
A century of tradition was thrown away for no damn good reason.
The Fisherman’s Cove regulars and semi-regulars are angry. I am one of them and I am writing Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen to complain. I urge you to do the same. His email address is: [email protected]. Simply write: “Fisherman’s Cove. Leave us alone.” He will get it.
Go ahead. Do it now. Two minutes of your time. Or ain’t it worth it?
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach. He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.