Bicycles Are Ruining Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

by on October 26, 2020 · 12 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Judi Curry

Recently, as some of you might remember, I wrote an article about the influx of rats that have inundated Sunset Cliffs and our neighborhood in South OB.

In that article I mentioned the amount of trash that is being generated by people having parties on Sunset Cliffs; food trucks parked in the parking lot selling food to passersby; walkers, joggers, runners, and bicycle riders that finish their snack – or their picnic – and just walk away from the trash that they have generated.

A situation has a new concern for me and others in the Sunset Cliffs area, that I have not mentioned, primarily because it happened after the article appeared.

A few days ago as I was driving south on Sunset Cliffs towards my home, when in the lane going north there  had to be at least 100+ people riding their bikes. No… I did not count them, but it was such a horrific event that it generated discussion on Next Door. There are all kinds of bikes – motorized, peddled, mountain, etc., and there were children interspersed in the group also riding bikes.

Some people were playing loud music; some were singing loudly, etc. And in the very back of the group of bike riders was a police car with its lights on.  No automobile trying to go north to leave the area could get by.

Many of the respondents on Next Door talked about how wonderful it was to see all those people riding their bikes. Others asked what group it was; where were they going? and other questions.  As a person driving an automobile, it was a nightmare.  They were all over the road; paying little attention to rules, and frequently swerving into the line of traffic.

Sunset Cliffs just cannot handle that many bike riders and a lane for cars going both north and south.  I do not know where they were going but I can venture a guess that they were coming from  the “trails” at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.  The “parade” took at least 20 minutes to pass by, and I guarantee you that none of the riders stopped at the signal at Pt. Loma and Sunset Cliffs.

And that brings me to a letter I received from Mr. Scott MacLaggan, who lives in the Wooded area of Point Loma near the Nazarene University, sent to District 2 Councilmember Jen Campbell.  Here is his letter verbatim:

“Until very recently bicycles have been prohibited entirely at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.  This law has been unenforceable because the City has never posted the appropriate signage as required at all entrances to the park.

This is something I have been trying to get the City to correct for many years with no success.  Over several years, all D2 City Council members have either ignored all requests or “forwarded it to the appropriate department” and nothing has been done.

This has created an extremely dangerous situation to all who visit the trails, accelerates the erosion process, and degrades the Park’s visual character.  Now with the “new” S.C.N.P. bicycles ARE allowed “on a designated bicycle path” only.

With the increasing number of bike riders in general, the word being spread on social media, more and more motorized “fat tire” bikes and the return of rental bikes and scooters, the problem is now worse than ever before.  And of course, they do not remain on the “designated bicycle path” (which is not designated at all).

The use of motorcycles or motorbikes within the Park is still prohibited yet they are there daily, and the City is doing nothing about it.  Because there are hundreds of offshoot smaller trails, hundreds of signs would be required.  My feeling is it would be better (and easier to enforce) to go back to how it has always been and prohibit bicycles entirely.

From the S.C.N.P. Master Plan:

Bicycle Paths:   Bicycle use in the Park will be allowed on a designated bicycle path at the Hillside Park. The use of motorcycles or motorbikes within the Park is prohibited in the Park. Such activities accelerate the erosion process, compact soils and degrades the Park’s visual character.  Limit use of bicycles in the Park to a designated bicycle path at the Hillside Park. The alignment shall generally follow the existing sludge line. Install aesthetically pleasing signage and trail head barriers as necessary on trails not designated for bicycle use. Initiate education program to inform Park users of potential degradation of Park due to such activities on undesignated trails.”

No new signage or barriers have been installed and no education program has taken place.  Even if all the proper signage were in place, the City has reduced the Park and Rec budget to the point Rangers no longer patrol S.C.N.P. and the police may respond to a report, but the bikes are almost always gone by the time they arrive.

Again, from the Master Plan:

“Do no harm; protect, conserve, and enhance.

Allow public access with minimal environmental impacts.

Maintain planning integrity/strategy for resource preservation.

Restore areas of neglect and damage to their previous condition and visual quality.””

Until just a few days ago, Mr. MacLaggan did not have any response from Jen Campbell’s office.  He sent a Certified Mail letter to Campbell, and it was intercepted by her Chief of Staff, Venus Molina.

He sent a second Certified Mail letter to Campbell, marked “Restricted Delivery” and she refused it.   Ms. Molina wrote him back in an email  and stated that “I have forwarded your concerns to the appropriate City staff regarding enforcement of any current regulations.  I will also inquire on your behalf about installation of informational signage along the trails.”  It is no surprise that nothing has been done about this yet.

A few days ago, Mr. MacLaggan received a call back from Monique Tello of the Campbell office.  She was nice and seemed concerned, according to him, but then went on about how it may take years to go through the committees.  Another dead-end.  And the SCNP just keeps eroding away.

As things stand now, it is virtually impossible for the police to enforce bikes on designated trails only.

The only workable solution would be to revert back to when there were no bikes allowed in the park at any time.  With the condition of the park as it is now, these bikes are only causing more havoc to an area that was known for its beauty; they are destroying the natural habitat at a rapid rate, and with the City doing nothing except spraying Round-up to kill weeds – and anything else that gets in its way – it appears that this beautiful area will soon only be a memory in our minds.

I mentioned in an article posted a while ago that we along the Cliffs apparently have become a step-child of the City of San Diego.  There are thousands of people visiting the Cliffs over the week – and no, I cannot tell you an exact amount -.

We have already lost one parking lot on Sunset Cliffs; it is only a question of time before we lose more.  And we are losing a treasure in the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.  What is it going to take to get our representatives to get off their duffs and do something?  All we get are platitudes with no action.

Time is of the essence – something better be done, and quickly before it is too late.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris October 26, 2020 at 12:41 pm

“My feeling is it would be better (and easier to enforce) to go back to how it has always been and prohibit bicycles entirely.”
I guess it really comes down what side you’re on. A blanket ban on bicycle use is a bit extreme and not fair to the people who ride them. And I think it’s safe to assume there are many cyclists who live in Sunset Cliffs who would disagree with you about an all out ban.


Dr. Jack Hammer October 26, 2020 at 1:10 pm

I prefer it to stay as it was, with bikes not being allowed in the park. I am a mountain biker and know better than to ride in such a fragile environment. Plus, the paths are filled with dogs, walkers, families, surfers, etc.. There is really no reason, in my opinion, to open the park up to bikes, as there is plenty of good mountain biking in the surrounding area. But then again, they pretty much destroyed sunset cliffs NATURAL park with this 12 year overhaul plan that is never-ending and must be way over budget. But I digress… I say no bikes.


nostalgic October 26, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Somehow, COVID-19 has translated to everyone in San Diego County viewing Sunset Cliffs as a destination. Many of them believe that masks are not required outdoors. The Parks are not equipped to handle the new park-load, and all of its natural fragility is under stress. Trash pickup, bathrooms, enforcement – none have been increased, and people who know that are taking advantage of knowing it. How much is too much? How many bikes are too many? Who knows?


Judi Curry October 26, 2020 at 2:24 pm

At least keep the motorized bikes out. And you are right, Nostagic. There are no bathrooms; people are throwing their trash everywhere, including masks….We are in danger of losing this natural wonder.


Chris October 26, 2020 at 2:36 pm

I would agree with keeping the motorized bikes out. As more and more trails are being closed to mountain biking or others are being open but with stipulations (meaning human powered), I think motors are a good cut off point. E-bikes have their purpose, but not on trails like this.


Scott M Mac Laggan October 26, 2020 at 2:42 pm

To see what we have lost and is now gone forever please view flick album:


Buska October 27, 2020 at 4:36 pm

Why are you so mad Judi? we get it you are in a hurry to get in and out of O.B but have some respect. So are other people and their families. Some of those families might not have cars or are taking a nice bike ride. It is the beach after all, loosen up. If you refer back to the DMV and your license agreement and laws you will clearly see that bicycles are a part of the road way, have the right of way and must be respected. If that is too much for you to handle please sell your car and take public transport. San Diego doesn’t need anymore impatient and Roadrage ready drivers.


Frank Gormlie October 27, 2020 at 5:20 pm

Agree w/ Judi here; it’s like you didn’t read the entire last half of the post.


Judi October 27, 2020 at 8:38 pm

Thank you


Judi Curry October 27, 2020 at 4:59 pm

you missed the entire point. The Sunset Cliffs National Park is being over run by bicycles. The trails are eroding. The trash is piling up. Bikes are not allowed on the trails. Look at the information that Scott has above. It has nothing to do with 100+ bike riders on Sunset Cliffs. If you look at the laws you will find that bike riders must obey the laws too. They must stop at stop signs like car drivers. I suggest that you stop looking at an excuse to knock me and see what the purpose of the article is. If you want to preserve this area, then bike riders have to also obey the laws.


Michell T October 28, 2020 at 8:25 am

I’m as much for conservation of natural assets like Sunset Cliffs Natural Park as anyone, though I rather doubt that that big a bicycle group would have come from the trails of SCNP. It’s a lot more likely that that was some form of ‘Bike Party’ (formerly known as ‘Critical Mass’) bike rides which generally stay on the paved roads (especially if they had some sort of a police escort?).

Was that encounter with the huge cycling group a one off or are you seeing it every week??

And, why the need to link it to the issue of bikes on SCNP? For all I can tell from the article, they may not be related at all.

I ride my bike everywhere, and I have no problem with making bikes stay on designated paths only thru places like SCNP (tho, if bike is banned altogether, then the park should provide a secure bike parking for visitors who arrive by bike. Gosh knows San Diego has a huge bicycle theft problem. So, none of that filmsy bike rack that people can only secure a wheel to the rack with a U-lock. That’s a recipe for coming back to find only a wheel attached to the rack, and no rest of the bike).

But, I think we have all been around a while and know that a ban would do nothing anyway… if it can’t be enforced. Facilitating more eco-friendly type of usage rather than rogue ones should work better. You are better off making a reasonable designated bike trails (or bikes allowed hiking trails) that give reasonable view – because you want people on bike to use that path rather than going on to the other more fragile trails. They had pedaled all the way there and want a ‘pay off’ for their effort, if the designated trail is unpleasant compared to the the other trails… you know what human nature would do.

Have littering problem? Install more trash cans and/or schedule more trash pick up (I’m sure being on a bicycle doesn’t make a person litter more than being on foot). I can tell you that a lot of people who get around on bike are budding nature lovers who would volunteer to help clean up the place a few times a year or even monthly. Why not organize park clean up days (and while you are picking trash up along side others who came by bike, you can talk to them about biking in the park and other stuff)?

I have cycling friends who live within a few blocks of SCNP. They are the types more likely to stop riding to pick up trash than to throw one onto the road. This is not an us against them thing.


nostalgic October 28, 2020 at 11:30 am

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is the open space beyond Ladera Street, but it is also the thin area alongside the cliffs and Sunset Cliffs Blvd. The two areas are separate and distinct in most people’s minds, but part of the same dedicated parkland to the City of San Diego. A peaceful, bike-riding nature lover is riding on the street, not through the native plants. The more adventurous find it exciting to ride on the edge of a cliff. The number of people on scooters and motorized bikes feel that they are in the back-country (probably, I don’t actually know what they feel). Perhaps they will tell us.


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