UC San Diego applies to keep Scripps Coastal Reserve closed

looking through the locked gate at the entrance of the scripps coastal reserve

After closing public access to Scripps Coastal Reserve years ago, UC San Diego has now officially applied to the California Coastal Commission to maintain those limits, citing safety concerns with the bordering cliffs, erosion prevention and preservation of native plants.

The application also asks for retroactive permission to install a steel gate erected in 2012. 

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.

The Coastal Commission
had been investigating the reserve’s ongoing closure for months beginning in 2023, as the restriction of public access in the coastal zone needs prior commission approval.

Before the closure, the reserve was open to the public from 8 a.m. to sunset daily; UCSD offers docent-led tours of the reserve from 9 to 11 a.m the first Saturday of the month and welcomes people as maintenance volunteers from 8 to 10 a.m. Fridays.

“Reopening the preserve for public access is certainly something that the commission wants to accomplish,” Coastal Commission Enforcement Counsel Andrew Willis told lajolla.ca in September.

In December, a screenshot taken from the Scripps Coastal Reserve Facebook page in response to an inquiry about access indicated the reserve remained closed as due to “unsupervised public access, native plants and animals were routinely disturbed and displaced.”

“The proposed managed access plan is the result of an effort to balance public access with ecological and cultural resources and public safety,” writes UCSD Director of Campus Planning Robert Clossin in a Jan 22 letter submitted with the coastal commission application.

The managed access plan, which seeks to maintain the current, limited access, is necessary “to address the fragile ecosystem and natural resources” on the reserve, according to the application, along with attending to the “significant public safety concerns” posed by the cliffs. 

Reserve staff “work extensively to preserve and maintain the fragile ecosystem, which requires ongoing removal of invasive species and supportive environments to establish young native plants,” the application continues, efforts “oftentimes hindered by high pedestrian traffic, such as through trampling of native plants or the introduction of invasive organisms which can be easily brought into the habitat via visitors to the site.”

The permit for the gate installation is requested as the gate is a “safety element” requested by adjacent neighbors, the application states. 

UCSD discovered, after closing the reserve in 2020 for pandemic-related concerns, “an improvement to the natural environment,” university spokesperson Leslie Sepuka told lajolla.ca Jan 29.

“The reduction of visitors is thought to have allowed sensitive wildlife to return to the reserve and has greatly aided removal of invasive species,” Sepuka said.


Longtime Scripps Coastal Reserve volunteer David Lebowitz, however, is “very disappointed” with the UCSD proposal, he wrote in an email to the coastal commission, which he shared with
lajolla.ca.

“The idea that that beach access trail is unsafe for the general public is laughable as it is used regularly by many octogenarian residents of the Scripps Estates Associates,” Lebowitz said.

“A continuation of the current public access hours (two hours per month), the continuation of the docent chaperone requirement, and the denial of public access to the Sumner Canyon beach access trail are all unacceptable violations of the California Coastal Act’s public access requirements,” he added. “This plan comes nowhere close to balancing public use with resource protection.”

Coastal Commission staff is now reviewing the application for completeness, Willis said, and will initially request any information to complete the application by Feb 22.

“When there is a complete application, staff will consider whether the project is consistent with the Coastal Act, and then schedule the application for a public hearing, which includes a staff report and public testimony on the matter,” he said.

Picture of 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.
Picture of 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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