Dedicated in 1983, Sunset Cliffs is a 68-acre, resource-based park stretching along the ocean bordering the western edge of Point Loma.
The 18-acre linear section of the park lies to the west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard between Adair and Ladera streets. The 50-acre hillside section, a designated multiple species conservation area, links to the 640-acre Point Loma Ecological Reserve beginning at the Navy property to the south.
The park's topography includes intricately carved coastal bluffs, arches and sea caves. It affords inspiring panoramic ocean views, particularly during sunsets, including glimpses of California gray whales migrating annually to Baja California.
“There is an immediate need to let the community know about Phase II of the Hillside Improvements Project, which is now beginning implementation,” said Ann Swanson, a longtime Sunset Cliffs resident involved in park planning. “During the implementation process, the lower hillside parking lot will serve as the staging area ... meaning the parking lot and major areas of the hillside will be closed at various times.”
Noting Sunset Cliff’s hillside portion is the largest park on the Peninsula, Swanson added, “There is massive erosion and agonizingly slow progress in putting in measures to slow or stop it.”
However slow, Swanson added, “There has been much progress in revegetating the hillside, adding trails for public enjoyment and removing old residences, relics of a different era.”
The Peninsula Beacon accompanied Swanson, chair Gene Berger and Ellen Quick, all members of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Committee, on a recent tour of the hillsides to be improved.
Phase 1 of the project, a large, orange-netted area beneath Point Loma Nazarene University, involved a trial project to re-introduce native plants. A success, the effort is being undertaken on a much larger scale for Phase II of the project.
The trio of park planners picked their way through the hilly landscape of the park, which more than anything else resembles the ravine-gouged “badlands” of South Dakota.
Picking her away along the well-trod dusty hillside trails worn bare by humans and dogs, Quick noted, “The [work] contract has been awarded, the site inspection meeting has happened, and we anticipate work will start in a couple of weeks.”
A separate project to improve hillside drainage will follow Phase II improvements.
“[Phase II] will be extremely helpful as far as drainage is concerned,” said Swanson adding both projects “are interrelated.”
“The erosion is the number one problem in this park,” said Berger.
Quick noted the vision of Sunset Cliffs Master Plan is to “preserve and restore the park as it once was, free from the effects of humans. This is really a restoration project, putting in native vegetation.”
Quick pointed out Sunset Cliffs resembles Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla, right down to the introduction of baby Torrey Pines, a rare and isolated pine species.
“This is a regional park, like Balboa Park,” noted Berger.
“And it’s multiple habitat,” said Quick, noting park improvements are meant “to provide safe pedestrian access to these incredible views.”
Quick added Phase II hillside improvements are to include interpretive, educational signage about subjects like area geology and the cliff formation.
Swanson said park improvements are important too because “people need a respite from they’re busy lives.”
Pointing to how disturbed the terrain is, Swanson said, “We’re trying to nurture it,” while pointing to a Lemonadeberry bush, a common plant native to Sunset Cliffs.
“The park is rich in culture too,” said Berger, adding Native Americans “had trails through here as well.”
Quick said community park planners have been told reconfiguring the park in Phase II has been estimated to take 260 working days to complete. She said she was surprised to learn it may not take that long.
“A notice passed out [to surrounding property owners] stated the project will be substantially completed by June,” Quick said.