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Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Big Sur views to be more publicly accessible, thanks to Coastal Commission agreement

Under the agreement, the new owners of an old restaurant on the famous Big Sur coast will remove a gate that blocked public access to the coast, help restore native plants and will even build public bathrooms and parking.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Sightseers and fishers will soon be able to access a larger slice of Big Sur’s stunning ocean vistas and dramatic bluffs after the new owners of an old restaurant formalized an agreement with the California Coastal Commission on Friday to make their property more open and welcoming to the public. 

The new owners of the cliffside Rocky Point Restaurant property — which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, a few miles away from Carmel-by-the-Sea — agreed to improve historic public trails on their property, maintain a public viewing area of the ocean, build public parking spaces, electric car chargers, bathrooms and water bottle refilling stations and implement deed restrictions that will require all future owners of the property to maintain public access to the coastline.

The new owners also agreed to restore damaged habitat caused by the property’s previous owners and remove a gate that kept people from accessing the coast.  

“It took us awhile to work through this agreement, but I think we have something absolutely spectacular for the coast of California, and we’re proud of it,” said Jared Ficker, a consultant for Esperanza Carmel, the real estate company that owns the property, at Friday’s Coastal Commission meeting in Morro Bay. 

Opened in 1947, the restaurant was one of only a handful of restaurants along California’s scenic Highway 1 that curves around Big Sur.  

Next to the restaurant are historic trails to the coastline used by tourists and locals. To access the trails, people would park in the restaurant’s parking lot until the late 2010s, when the property changed hands and the new owners put up signs threatening to tow people’s cars, hired a security guard to intimidate people and installed a gate that was kept open only when the restaurant was open.

In California, where state law mandates that the public have access to the state’s beaches and coastlines, that’s a problem. 

“These violations represented an environmental injustice because public access to trails and fishing areas is a low cost activity, and the privatization of that access therefore disproportionately impacted people who could not afford to patronize the high end Rocky Point Restaurant,” Robert Moddelmog, an attorney with the commission, said. 

The restaurant closed in 2020 at the height of Covid-19, leaving behind a slew of problems for the new owners. Esperanza Carmel bought the property for $8 million in 2021, with plans to build a 166-seat restaurant and a small inn on the property. 

But that purchase came with picking up the tab for all the violations of California's coastal protection laws perpetrated by the previous owners, including clearing an area of adjacent county property for an employee parking lot. 

The new owners agreed to remove the invasive plants that grew over the cleared area, including Australian eucalyptus that burn easily during wildfires and South African ice plants, and to restore the habitat for native plants. 

The new owners also agreed to maintain a space and some tables at the property to allow people to picnic and enjoy the view, without having to pay for a meal at the restaurant. 

When asked when the restaurant is planning to reopen, Ficker said they’re working on getting the necessary permits and they don’t have a hard grand opening date yet.  

“In the meantime, please, it’s open for the public. Come down, park there, walk around the trails. It’s really quite majestic,” he said. 

Categories / Environment, Regional, Travel

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