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City assumes ownership of Smithcliffs Park

April 19, 2002

Barbara Diamond

The city picked up another pocket park Tuesday.

City officials unanimously agreed to accept ownership of the small

blufftop park and an access road that was carved out of the old

Smithcliffs estate when the 10.4-acre site was approved for development

by the California Coastal Commission in 1991.

A gate to the park, allegedly welded closed at an unknown date by the

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Smithcliffs Homeowners Assn., will remain locked for 90 days while the

association and McKnight Drive residents discuss the issue with the city

and try to come up with some solutions to their concerns about the public

path.

"I can't imagine any trade-off that would be of comparable value, but

if someone at Smithcliffs can come up with a valuable notion, maybe we

can revisit this," said Councilman Paul Freeman.

Smithcliffs residents claim the gate was welded closed and the pathway

partially removed to prevent loitering, littering and possible

burglaries.

"When you walk along the path, you can look into bedrooms of some of

the homes," said Darrin Trudeau. "They look and say, I want that."

Smithcliffs homeowners also said the park itself is unsafe. They said

a girl fell from the cliff and broke her leg and other accidents are

likely.

McKnight Drive resident Jeanette Merrilees doesn't oppose the public

pathway, but she doesn't want the city to pay for its restoration.

"The current title holder is responsible to remove the gate and

restore the area," said Merrilees.

City staff has estimated that the restoration will cost in the

neighborhood of $60,000. Maintenance is expected to cost the city about

$25,000 a year. The annual fee does not include police time to lock the

gate and Public Works Department time to open it, as is done at the

Heisler Park restrooms.

The acquisition of the Smithcliffs Park from the county conforms to

the city's general plan, according to the Planning Commission, which

reviewed the matter April 10.

Resident Ann Weisbrod brought the welded gate to the attention of the

city.

"When I discovered it, I felt angry and betrayed," said Weisbrod, a

longtime supporter of environmental causes, including public access to

beaches.

"Can you imagine how (Greenbelt founder) Jim Dilley would feel about

this?" Weisbrod said. "It is wrong to close off public access to the

place where the seals are so close you can see their faces and their

eyes."

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