It began before Memorial Day. Heavy weekend traffic in Mission Beach drawn to the new concessions at Belmont Park predicted a busy summer at the shoreline.
As a permanent resident of South Mission Beach, I’ve learned to maneuver the constant quest of day visitors scrambling for a parking space and Zonies (Arizona tourists) double-parking wherever.
With the Fourth of July weekend about to begin, summer has officially arrived at the beach. I enjoy watching the families lugging all their beach gear to set up headquarters for a day in the sun and surf. This requires a lot of work because of heavy paddleboarding and kayaking equipment.
Also very popular in recent years are the tent-pavilions that need to be assembled to shade the older folk and provide a space for barbecues and picnics.
Despite the large number of parking spaces surrounding Belmont Park, on a good summer day they are usually filled by 11 a.m. Then cars begin circling like a flock of vultures trying to squeeze in another parking space.
Many beachgoers who do not bring armloads of beach equipment arrive on the bus, while the very clever visitors ride their bicycle. No parking problem here.
Every few years I do an update on lifestyle at the beach. Big changes at Belmont Park over the past two years have affected the flow of visitors. After years of controversy and lease defaults, the master tenant for the city-owned prime oceanfront property was replaced by Pacifica Enterprises in 2012.
As in prior leases for Belmont Park, the tenant is required to make specific improvements to receive some rental concessions to help finance the investment. One of the new lease requirements that has been delayed is the $6 million restoration of the Mission Beach plunge, a popular community facility that closed several years ago, along with the athletic club and gym facilities.
One reason for the delay in improvements can be attributed to a lawsuit filed against the city by gadfly litigator Cory Briggs. The ubiquitous champion of “public interest” lawsuits claims the City Council approved a lease that violates the city charter, the Coastal Act and several environmental rules.
There’s always some dispute going on at the beach. In previous years, it was the widening of the boardwalk north of Belmont Park that took away the front patios of oceanfront homes. Then came the sometimes violent conflict between pedestrians and bike riders on the boardwalk with the ridiculous lane markings ignored by strollers.
Adding to the litigation action, a property owner is suing the city because a new lifeguard tower near the jetty blocks his view of the channel. The plan to replace the 40-year-old station began 12 years ago at a cost of $1.1 million. It is now estimated to be $5 million.
It isn’t like this necessary safety improvement suddenly appeared behind the backs of the nearby residents. The city planning process and Coastal Commission rules were properly followed. Notices were even sent to nearby residents, even though there were none within 300 feet from the tower site at the water’s edge.
Despite the city’s due diligence, the notices of new construction went to the seasonal or permanent tenants at the prescribed addresses, not to the absentee owners who are now complaining about the project. The city certainly can’t be responsible for that oversight allowing the owners a legal action against the city.
The good news about the Belmont Park expansion is the upgraded restaurants. The entire upper level of the building on the ocean boardwalk is now called Cannonball, which replaced the previous shabby burger joint called Canes. At the boardwalk level is an improved casual dining terrace called the Wave House, complete with a mechanism that creates an artificial wave.
This popular drop-in eatery has all of the kitsch associated with South Seas Tiki decor, but it lends a casual beach environment to the Belmont Park complex.
Pacifica Enterprises, and its restaurant partner Eat.Drink.Sleep, says it has already invested more than $25 million throughout the park over the past two years. The most obvious addition is the huge glass elevator lifting customers to the Cannonball roof restaurant. At night it is very festive with colorful LED lights
That just about covers the changes in Mission Beach. Now we endure the visitor crunch for the holiday weekend and look forward to two weekends of the Over The Line tournament at Fiesta Island. The popular annual event sponsored by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club began over 60 years ago right in front of the South Mission Beach boardwalk. It now attracts thousands of revelers.