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Portuguese Bend Reserve in Ranch Palos Verdes has seen a uptick in the number of hikers and day trippers, especially since May when trails opened after the coronavirus shutdown. (File photo from Feb. 2019 by Chuck Bennett)

Rancho Palos Verdes City Council, in an attempt to balance public access and neighbors' complaints about noise and traffic, has voted to extend parking restrictions and to explore other parking measures near some of the city's most popular hiking destinations.

The panel directed city staff to begin hiring part-time parking enforcement staff and will release a request for proposal to establish a parking app system. That will come back to the council, along with a parking fee analysis and holistic parking analysis, on Dec. 15.

At the Oct. 20 meeting, Council extended until Dec. 15, temporary parking restrictions along Crenshaw Boulevard and has increased the size of the drop-off zone there from one car length to three. The Crenshaw Boulevard restriction, south of Crest Road, at the trailhead closest to Del Cerro Park, was first put into place in September as the city grappled with an increase in the number of visitors to the area.

Thanks to social media posts and the coronavirus shutting down many forms of recreation, hundreds of people a day visit the city's picturesque Portuguese Bend Reserve. It's the most-visited spot in Palos Verdes Nature Preserve's 1,400 acres. Portuguese Bend and the park's 11 other reserves have become increasingly popular hiking destinations, much to the chagrin of residents who live nearby.

Residents who live near the Portuguese Bend Reserve, Filiorum Reserve and Del Cerro Park complain about noisy early morning hikers, an increase in overall traffic in the area and motorists performing dangerous U-turns while trying to find parking. 

City Council tabled an option to open the parking lot at Rancho Del Mar High School on weekends and holidays as that, too, would cause more noise and traffic. The school is located in Rolling Hills and is a Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District property.

Rolling Hills Councilmember Patrick Wilson said at the meeting that the site is zoned residential and has never been considered for public parking.

“It's going to have a great impact on our city to allow for the use of a residential area to be used for parking,” Wilson said.

The Portuguese Bend Reserve is the city's largest reserve and its most popular, according to Senior Administrative Analyst Katie Lozano.

“Public use has increased over the past 10 years largely due to social media, and the use has increased even more so since LA County lifted their trail closure orders in May,” said Lozano. “This pattern of increased use as being seen by trail managers all over Los Angeles County.”

Neighborhoods, including the Del Cerro neighborhood, have reported unsafe traffic conditions, early morning and late night activity, difficulty driving to and from their homes and noise issues, according to Lozano.

Lozano said the area was not designed for its current level of use and there is a misconception that the Portuguese Bend Reserve is the front door to the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve and the Del Cerro neighborhood is the primary access to the preserve.

Another misconception is the Portuguese Bend Reserve is the typical way to gain coastal access, but it is the one of the more inland of the 12 reserves. Better access to the coast is through the Ocean Trails Reserve, Abalone Cove Reserve and the Vicente Bluffs Reserve, she said.

“Coastal access is also provided along the city's coastline through the California Coastal Trail, which is a joint effort between the city and the California Coastal Conservancy to enhance public access to the coast,” Lozano said. “The city provides six public parking along its coast for these open space areas and trails, and five of the six parking areas are for free.”

More than 30 residents expressed concerns about traffic and noise at Tuesday's meeting.

“The incredible amount of traffic in and out of our neighborhoods creates an unsafe environment,” said resident Barry Rodgveller. “It's because of the speed, of double parking, illegal u-turns, and this causes also incessant noise from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at night, and sometimes even later. This noise is carried into our backyards.”

“We welcome visitors into the reserve to enjoy its natural beauty,” added Miriam Varend. “What is not welcomed our visitors who do not respect the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Julie Winter said she was part of the campaign to create the Portuguese Bend Reserve. She said if that effort had failed, there would have been development that would have brought 400 homes and approximately 800 cars to the area.

Winter said the reserve is not a private park.

“The funds were donated based on a promise that the Land Conservancy would create a preserve for the enjoyment of all, not the few,” Winter said.

Mayor Pro Tem Eric Alegria, and other councilmembers said the City Council is working hard to balance the resident's concerns with the visitors use of the city's parks.

“I take a bit of an issue when public access issues like this arise on the agenda,” Alegria said. “We hear people within the community. I think expressing a high level of nimby-ism, pushing back against the idea of having volumes of visitors within the preserve.”

To help alleviate traffic, the city is installing gates at the Burma Road and Rattlesnake Trailheads, which according to a city staff report are the most popular access roads to the reserve. Around 240,000 people annually use these trailheads.

But Lozano said the gate installations have been delayed to Nov. 13 because of material back orders.

While normal park and reserve operating hours in the city are one hour before dusk to one hour after dawn, residents requested the gates should be locked until 7 a.m.

“Benefits to delaying the opening of the gates until 7 a.m. are improving quality of life for preserve neighbors, both in the Del Cerro neighborhood and down in the Portuguese Bend community,” Lozano said.

The council agreed to close the gates at the latest sunset of each quarter, but visitors of the reserve can remain until normal closing time which is one hour after sunset.

Lozano said a staff report that indicated parking fees ranging from $30-50 for a four-hour time slot were just examples. No specific fees or rates were discussed at Tuesday's meeting but fees will be discussed at a future meeting, she said.

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