CARLSBAD — For years, the picnic areas and bluffs along Tamarack/Frazee State Beach in Carlsbad have languished from neglect.
Patches of dirt and dried out grass, stumps of dead trees, and grey concrete benches dot the beach bluff walkways adjacent to Carlsbad Boulevard. The public restrooms are littered and its floors are stained. The handrails on the stairway leading down to the beach are rusty and falling apart.
The bluffs themselves have spotty, incomplete vegetation, inefficient sprinklers, and invasive plant species.
The city has long been aware of the condition of the seaside sidewalks and bluffs overlooking one of Carlsbad’s most beautiful beaches, but felt it had its hands tied.
Tamarack/Frazee State Beach and its public assets are the responsibility-both operationally and financially- of California’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
City Council has been wary of paying for upkeep that the state is supposed to cover.
But recognizing that the beach conditions will not improve under the state, the city is swallowing hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs and setting about to make the facilities Tamarack/Frazee State Beach functional once again.
At Tuesday’s meeting, City Council approved a temporary agreement with the state to maintain Tamarack/Frazee State Beach’s picnic facilities and bluffs. The measure is viewed as the city’s first step towards taking long-term control of the beach’s upkeep.
“We’ve needed to do this for 20 years,” said Mayor Matt Hall about the coming enhancements.
“(The agreement) kinda represents our first response to a beach emergency we are having in our public beach area,” said Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio.
According to city staff, Tamarack/Frazee Beach’s decline can be attributed to a budget shortage for the state Parks and Recreation Department, not operational inefficiencies.
The one-year state permit will allow Carlsbad to make improvements including replacing landscape along the bluff walkways, putting in new picnic tables and benches, renovating the public restroom, installing new railings on the staircase, adding erosion control materials, and planting native species along the bluff.
Updating the landscape and restrooms at the picnic area will cost an estimated $400,000 and continued maintenance an approximate $75,000 annually. Improving the coastal bluff will cost about $500,000 and require $40,000 each year.
While the state is providing some grants for the city to carry out the improvements, Carlsbad will still have to use local funds to complete the work.
“Some people may be critical that the city is picking up the tab for work the state should be doing,” said councilmember Keith Blackburn. But he said that continuing to do nothing would result in Tamarack/Frazee Beach remaining in disrepair, which would hurt the city’s reputation.
“I think this is a good move to spend taxpayer money even though it is state property,” he said.
As the city makes progress on improving the beach picnic areas and bluff over the next year, staff is continuing to work with the state to enable Carlsbad to take over maintaining the beach facilities for about the next 20 years.
If a long-term agreement is reached, the city may be able to initiate programs along the beach space and major projects, said Barberio.
The city’s attempt to work with the state and eventual agreement came at the behest of a local resident.
Fred Briggs approached the city about the beach’s deficiencies in summer 2013. In a presentation before City Council, he pointed to the beach enhancements completed in Encinitas, Oceanside, Solana Beach, and Del Mar in recent years.
“Their foresight will greatly benefit their economies in the future, particularly if Carlsbad’s facilities continue to be seen as neglected and shabby,” he said in a letter to Council that accompanied his presentation.
Briggs urged Carlsbad to at least take measures to address the beach’s sanitation and public facilities.
Carlsbad began considering beach improvements as part of its coastal corridor project. While providing an update on the project to City Council in October, Barberio emphasized that most tourists come to Carlsbad to visit the beach.
Referencing the city’s latest tagline, he said, “When you think about a world class city, you think about a world class coastline.”