Prohibited overnight camping at Tunitas Creek Beach

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors today introduced a host of new prohibitions on overnight camping, trash dumping and other less-than-savory activities at remote Tunitas Creek Beach in response to a growing number of visitors endangering themselves and the environment with improper uses.

Tunitas Creek Beach has no bathroom facilities or trash receptacles and is only reachable via a steep, eroded trail from Highway 1— factors that makes it attractive to nighttime revelers who leave behind a varied array of garbage, human waste and even the charred remains of barbecued pigs.

“Unfortunately, this type of outrageous behavior in recent years shows that some visitors cannot be trusted to regulate their own actions using common sense and basic courtesy,” said Board President Don Horsley whose District Three includes the beach. “We have this gem of a beach in our backyard but it will continue losing its shine if we don’t take action.”

The proposed restrictions are similar to those at existing County parks and include: fires, overnight camping, removal or destruction of vegetation, vandalism, littering, domestic animals, firearms, alcohol and loitering after hours. The rules also forbid fireworks, smoking, motorized vehicles and the use of sound amplifying equipment.

Violations will be cited as a misdemeanor.

At Tuesday’s meeting, staff showed the Board snapshots of social media posts about the debris they encountered at the beach but noted that those can’t do justice to the magnitude of the situation. For example, a recent beach party resulted in 15 bags of trash.

Party organizers from outside the county also use social media to gather hundreds of people for nighttime parties like one on Fourth of July 2016 that generated local news headlines about the “shocking” amount of discarded items left behind.

Last year, the County also prohibited overnight parking along Tunitas Creek Road but supervisors said that has not proven a significant deterrent.

“We understand that the beach is popular and that’s a large reason why we want it protected, so that the public can continue to enjoy it. But as it stands now, the public is actually at risk when they visit because the current access is either through private property or scrambling down a narrow path. This is dangerous for both them and — in those dire times it is needed— first responders coming to help a person in distress,” said Assistant County Manager Mike Callagy.

The proposed restrictions are actually part of a larger effort by the County of San Mateo to preserve Tunitas Creek Beach and improve access for responsible daytime beachgoers. The County is currently working with Peninsula Open Space Trust to acquire and convert the land into the first County beach park. That long-term plan could add trash cans and restroom facilities on-site but supervisors said they need to begin curbing the unacceptable behavior now.

The ordinance considered by the Board at its June 6 meeting requires a second reading and if approved takes effect 30 days later.