The California Coastal Commission has called on Orange County to step-up enforcing laws that ban breaching a sand berm at the Aliso Creek terminus, putting the burden on county staffers to prevent skimboarders from releasing polluted runoff into the ocean.
The state panel encouraged county officials to install signage, distribute brochures, enlist docents, and have park rangers write citations for unauthorized breaching activity, according to a March 9 letter. Skim boarders enjoy the thrill of riding a stream of creek water down the berm and into the surf.
“We understand that the County has undertaken some of these measures, but has not attempted to enforce County code provisions that prohibit breaching of the lagoon,” coastal enforcement manager Andrew Willis wrote.
In response to questions from the Independent, OC Parks pushed back against the state official’s claim that they’re not already enforcing the law at the terminus of Aliso Creek.
“The condition of the berm at Aliso Beach is routinely monitored. OC Parks will continue to educate the public on berm breaching activities and enforce if appropriate,” OC Parks spokesperson Marisa O’Neil wrote in an email.
O’Neil declined to offer details on why county officials believe the Coastal Commission staff were mistaken in finding there’s been no enforcement after berm breaching at Aliso Beach.
A coalition of marine environment advocates have inked their own letters to county and city officials, stating their members haven’t witnessed rangers write a single citation or make an arrest.
“The fact that the Coastal Commission would do extensive research and remind the County of their responsibilities is a significant step forward,” Laguna Bluebelt Coalition co-founder Mike Beanan said. “I’m not against skimboarding. I’m against people discharging polluted water into the ocean.”
Exasperated with the lack of law enforcement, the Surfrider Foundation reminded county officials that private citizens who dig out and attempt to manipulate Aliso Creek sand berm are subject to citation.
“We ask you to put an end to these illegal activities, ensuring that the laws are followed in both letter and spirit, and that our shared coast and waterways are receiving the protection required and deserved,” Surfrider Foundation policy manager Jennifer Savage wrote in a letter.
State, county, and city jurisdictions bump up against each other at Aliso Beach, creating a “cat-and-mouse game” that has allowed involved agencies to avoid taking responsibility, Beanan said. The Orange County Flood Control District is listed as the parcel’s property owner but state lands extend up to the median high-tide line. OC Parks operates and polices county-owned beaches, including Aliso Beach.
The County holds primary responsibility for maintaining the Aliso Creek berm and ensuring compliance with state and county codes, Laguna Beach police chief Jeff Calvert said in a prepared statement.
“Laguna Beach Police have no legal basis to cite or arrest anyone for breaching the Aliso Creek berm, since it is not in violation of the Orange County Codified Ordinances,” Calvert said.
County laws banning creek disruption, only apply to creeks in unincorporated areas but the Aliso Creek berm is located within the Laguna Beach city limits. The Orange County Board of Supervisors could choose to close the loophole and remove the reference to unincorporated areas or include portions of County creeks that run within incorporated cities, Calvert said.
Beanan pointed out that Laguna Beach police cite illegally-parked cars in the county-owned parking lot and enforce traffic laws on state-owned highways running through the City.
“This is a chance for the city leadership to show they care about all of Laguna,” he said.
The recent dust-up isn’t the first time state officials have probed county officials’ lack of enforcement at Aliso Creek. In January 2021, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an investigative order to Orange County Parks and Orange County Environmental Resources regarding the sand berm breaches.
“This lack of oversight and monitoring appears to be inconsistent with the public health and safety, environmental protection, and monitoring measures implemented during the authorized sand bar berm maintenance activities periodically conducted by OC Parks,” state water quality officials wrote.
Orange County Sup. Lisa Bartlett declined to comment for this story.View Our User Comment Policy