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Scripps Coastal Reserve remains closed: access plan is pending

black fence with lock, closing access to the scripps coastal reserve in La Jolla

The Scripps Coastal Reserve in La Jolla remains closed, and the California Coastal Commission expects UC San Diego, which manages the reserve, to apply for a permit to allow for public access.

long black gate blocks entrance to the scripps coastal reserve

The Coastal Commission has been investigating the reserve’s ongoing closure for months now, as the restriction of public access in the coastal zone needs prior commission approval.

“Our permit staff is continuing to communicate with UCSD representatives regarding a [coastal development permit] application for a public access management plan,” Coastal Commission enforcement staff counsel Andrew Willis said. “We expect that application to be submitted as soon as possible.”

UCSD did not answer lajolla.ca’s questions about the development permits or why the reserve is still closed; a statement from the university’s communications department states UCSD “is working with the California Coastal Commission and re-opening options are being considered. In the meantime, the Scripps Coastal Reserve will remain closed.”

Scripps Coastal Reserve, at 9400 La Jolla Farms Road and known to locals as “the knoll” or “the cliffs,” contains about 1,000 acres above Black’s Beach and is part of the University of California’s Natural Reserve System.

UCSD closed the reserve to the public in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

entrance to scripps coastal reserve trail with information signs and trash cans

Before the closure, the reserve was open to the public from 8 a.m. to sunset daily.

After outdoor places began to reopen, UCSD kept the reserve closed without reason, La Jolla resident David Lebowitz told the La Jolla Shores Association Sept. 13.

As members of the public began to raise concerns about the reserve’s continued closure, UCSD instituted a limited reopening of the space in January 2022, allowing visitors to join docent-led tours from 9 to 11 a.m. the first Saturday of the month.

“You [used to] be able to walk the trail and enjoy the views yourself,” Lebowitz said. “Now … somebody’s talking the entire time; you’re chaperoned.”

The university has “never provided any real public explanation for the closure,” he said.

“Reopening the preserve for public access is certainly something that the commission wants to accomplish,” Willis told lajolla.ca, adding there is not a public access plan in place authorized by the commission.

As the reserve contains important coastal habitat and cultural resources, “it’s taking some time to work through” a coastal access plan with UCSD, Willis said, noting the university and Coastal Commission met Sept. 12 to continue coordination.

“I don’t expect UCSD to apply to close the preserve; our expectation and our understanding from talking to UCSD is we’re moving in the direction … to have [more] public access at the site.”

Andrew Willis, Coastal Commission Enforcement Counsel

There is no specific timeline yet, Willis said. “We’re trying to get this application as soon as possible.”

The La Jolla Shores Association unanimously approved sending a letter to both UCSD and the Coastal Commission “expressing strong opposition to the ongoing public access closure at Scripps Coastal Reserve,” according to language suggested by LJSA President Janie Emerson.

The letter also requests the pre-pandemic daily public access hours “be restored immediately.”

“We appreciate the public’s involvement and interest in this,” Willis said. “Commission staff can see how important a public access area [Scripps Coastal] is.”

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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