Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Sept. 8 @ 4:08 p.m.
Crescent City Council Rejects Proposed Preston Island Overnight Closure, Directs Staff to Formally Work With County to Address Camping, Vandalism Complaints
Crescent City Councilors rejected a proposal to close the access road to Preston Island at night, directing staff to “do the hard work” with the county to address residents’ complaints of illegal camping, vandalism and criminal activity in the area.
Their decision Tuesday came after Crescent City Police Chief Richard Griffin said his department didn’t know there was a problem at the rocky spit of land off Pebble Beach Drive until recently. Residents weren’t reporting the criminal activity they were seeing, he said.
Plus, the parking area at the foot of the access road is outside city limits. While, Del Norte County Sheriff Garrett Scott has given CCPD consent to patrol and assist on “any issues down at the bottom,” Griffin said that has been a recent development.
“The sheriff has the ultimate jurisdiction within the county,” he said. “We did not have consent to work in the county for two years under a prior sheriff. That was where the issue was. You can’t go outside city limits for smaller infractions or misdemeanors. You’re actually impersonating a peace officer at that point.”
Four City Councilors took no action on an ordinance that would have closed the access road and the public beach north of the Brother Jonathan parking area from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. They directed staff to pursue formal “two-by-two” meetings with county supervisors on the issue rather than the informal collaboration both agencies had been engaging in so far.
Mayor Jason Greenough was absent.
Their decision came as a surprise to District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey, who brought the issue to the city’s attention after speaking with residents. She said her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors would have weighed in on a similar ordinance for Preston Island some time this month.
Starkey said she had participated in informal meetings with City Manager Eric Wier, Councilor Blake Inscore and County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez. The goal, she said, was for both jurisdictions to work so their ordinances were consistent with each other.
In Crescent City, Beachfront Park and Howe Drive Park are closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The proposed ordinance would have applied the same regulations for the Preston Island access road. But in the county, while overnight parking or camping is prohibited, county code defines overnight as “any portion of the period between sunset of any given day and sunrise of the following day.”
In July, Assistant County Administrative Officer Randy Hooper told the Wild Rivers Outpost that officials were meeting with the city and that the county’s goal was to have a consistent standard between the two jurisdictions that both CCPD and the DNSO can use.
On Thursday, Starkey said the Council’s discussion at Tuesday’s meeting didn’t touch on the possibility that consistent ordinances between both jurisdictions would make it easier for law enforcement to move people along.
“It’s not just the graffiti going on down there,” she said. “It’s people hooting and hollering at 2 in the morning and disturbing the residents that live up and around there. While I don’t like to take away people’s restrictions either, it’s similar to what they do on Howe Drive.”
After residents told her about their concerns regarding break-ins, encampments and graffiti on the rocks near Preston Island, Starkey organized a meeting on Aug. 27. About 25 to 30 residents showed up and spoke with the sheriff, police chief and a representative from the California Highway Patrol.
“We all just talked about what could work, what couldn’t work and where we want to go from there and they decided to reconvene in about two months,” Starkey said, adding that the potential goal would be to create a presence on NextDoor or form a formal Neighborhood Watch program. “They had all these ideas and it’s hard when you have 30 different people, so we decided in two months we would reconvene and talk about what it is we’re hoping for. And what I had told them was that we were working on a proposal to have that place closed down from 11-5.”
Griffin on Tuesday acknowledged that consistency between the jurisdictions would allow for extra patrols at Preston Island. But, he said, closing the access road would affect everyone not just the population of people residents are complaining about.
Griffin said Starkey had suggested placing a gate at the top of Preston Island, but he didn’t think that would solve the problem.
“You’re going to have people getting in there after night and you’re not going to be able to patrol it as easily with a patrol car,” he said.
In Crescent City, people can park in public spaces for 72 hours, according to Wier. If they’re in an oversized vehicle exceeding 22 feet long, 7 feet tall and 7 feet wide, they can only park on the street for eight hours.
These places include the library parking lot, the parking area at Brother Jonathan Lookout and on city streets, according to Wier. In addition to Howe Drive and Beachfront Park, the Battery Point Lighthouse parking lot is also closed at night.
Councilor Beau Smith balked at the idea of closing Preston Island, saying that people visit to fish for eels and surf perch early in the morning. Others will go out and look at the stars late at night, he said.
Smith also brought up a discussion he and his colleagues had earlier about CCPD making changes to the staffing plan it had expected to put into place using Measure S tax dollars. Griffin told Councilors he wanted to change a lieutenant position back to a sergeant position to keep more officers patrolling the streets.
“They’re already stretched pretty thin and I understand this stretches them even thinner,” Smith said. “But at the same time, you got to look out for the taxpaying citizen who wants to go down there after 11 p.m. or who might want to go down there before 5 and fish.”
Inscore said while he understands the concerns from residents living near Preston Island, he felt law enforcement hadn’t been given a chance to address them. He pointed out that there is no parking within the city’s jurisdiction at Preston Island, concerns with vehicles parked at Preston Island are in the county’s jurisdiction.
“What I kept hearing more than anything else was ‘well, there was addressed the idea of people coming down there in vehicles and even some of those people who go across the country staying some place free,’” Inscore said. “While some of that was a concern, the biggest concern I felt like I was hearing was the impacts of camping down there by the unhoused and impacts that they might be making on the other property owners. Not the person who wants to go down there and hang out for a couple of hours.”
Inscore also brought up a concern he has heard from other residents that closing the Preston Island access road might push those camping into other Crescent City neighborhoods.
Tamera Leighton, who lives on Lighthouse Way, said she’s seen the impact closing the Battery Point Lighthouse parking lot has had on land near the north jetty and B Street pier. She also pointed out that Del Norte Mission Possible is coming up with a viable solution to those who are unhoused.
“Mission Possible is a solution,” she said. “Having a homeless shelter and having enforceable rules because we have a homeless shelter is more of an option than what was discussed tonight. I’d like to see the City Council have conversations about homeless solutions and not just about pushing people along.”
Del Norte Mission Possible is a local nonprofit organization that operates a transitional housing program for women and a navigation center for the unhoused to access health care, social services, mental health care and emergency food and clothing. The organization’s goal is to open a 24-hour rescue mission.