State cracks down on Mission Bay RV parks for treating public beaches as private

Part of Mission Bay RV Resort as seen from Campland on the Bay in 2019
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Operator must pay penalties valued at more than $1M for blocking coastal access


The state Coastal Commission is cracking on down on two Mission Bay RV parks for blocking public access to the water and for falsely advertising nearby public beaches as private areas controlled by the RV parks.

The commission Thursday levied penalties valued at more than $1 million on the company that operates the two parks, the 40-acre Campland on the Bay and the 70-acre Mission Bay RV Resort.

The crackdown comes as the parks’ operator is preparing a revised plan for removing 150 defunct mobile homes on nearby De Anza Point to expand RV parking. The commission rejected a previous version of that plan in May after outcry from environmentalists.

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The future of the two RV parks is cloudy because environmental groups and many city officials have expressed steadily increasing support for making much of the area marshland, which it was before aggressive dredging after World War II.

The penalties levied Thursday include a $250,000 cash payment by the operator of the parks, as well as the requirement that the operator create free summer camps for underserved youth and remove all signs and fencing that make the nearby beaches appear private.

The penalties, which are part of a negotiated settlement between the operator and the commission, also include requirements to provide new public restrooms, electric vehicle charging stations and other amenities.

The operator must also install signs marking the area as clearly public, add text to their websites describing the area as public and train employees to make it clear that the area is open to the public and has 31 public parking spots.

Commission staff said that despite notifying the operator of the violations in June 2020, the commission continued to receive complaints that guards at the park entrance were telling people the area was private and had no public parking.

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Staff also said the parks were advertised on TripAdvisor and other websites as having “private beaches.” The settlement requires the operator to request any websites still containing references to private beaches remove them.

Jacob Gelfand, whose family operates both RV parks, characterized the settlement as a positive development for the area because it includes many public benefits.

He said some of the signs and fencing blocking public access date back many decades and that his company is eager to remove them.

“We see ourselves as really dedicated and proactive stewards of the coast,” he said.

Some public speakers, including RV campers, praised the park operators for being friendly and accommodating to the public. They said RV parks on Mission Bay provide crucial low-cost access to the coast.

Other speakers had a less positive perspective.

“It takes quite a lot of hubris to wall off these public beaches and explicitly keep people off them,” said Laura Walsh, policy coordinator for the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “Given how popular these beaches are and how clearly the terms of the leases have been violated, we hope the city understands the role it plays in harboring this kind of activity in the long term.”

Lisa Haage, the commission’s chief of enforcement, said city officials told the commission they were unaware the RV park operator was violating its leases in so many fundamental ways.

Haage said she is hopeful the crackdown will change the city’s perspective on the area, which are tidelands the state transferred to the city many years ago.

“Local governments have been sort of slow to realize the value of tidelands to the public,” she said. “Our action here will hopefully spur an increased awareness.”

The camps for underserved youth required in the settlement will take place over five years, with a requirement that at least a quarter of them occur during summer and a quarter occur on weekends.

They will be open to families historically excluded from accessing the coast, including low-income households, Blacks, other people of color, people with disabilities and foster youth. The settlement estimates the camps will cost $50,000 per year, or $250,000 total.

The RV park operator’s revised plan for De Anza Point will need to address several concerns raised by commission staff last spring, including that the initial plan — approved by the City Council in 2019 — would decrease public access and create the wrong image.

Gelfand said a new plan is in the “home stretch.”