Seashore ends leases 
in Duck Cove

David Briggs
Nine second homes in Duck Cove, a bayside enclave in Point Reyes National Seashore, will be vacated next year after officials turned down a request by leaseholders to grant a 10-year extension.

Point Reyes National Seashore denied requests this month for nine private lease extensions in Duck Cove, a remote hamlet on the western banks of Tomales Bay, claiming that such extensions are at odds with the “purpose for which the park was established.”

The leaseholders, whose 40-year use reservations will expire next year, have been asked to vacate their properties as early as April. One resident who negotiated a 50-year lease at the time the park purchased the properties in 1972 will remain.

Seashore spokesman John Dell’Osso said on Tuesday that despite the remaining lease the park expects public access to the cove to become available next August.

Prior to the decision, leaseholders spent months talking with Seashore officials about receiving 10-year non-renewable extensions that would align with the 50-year lease, which is held by Bay Area resident Morton McDonald.

According to Sandy Blauvelt, whose family leases a small cottage in the cove, the group collectively bargained for the extensions by proposing to initiate some sort of project—she would not disclose what—at the site. “We thought it was win-win—environmentally attainable and a great public benefit,” she said.

In a letter sent to leaseholders, Park Service official Gregory F. Gress, of the Pacific Land Resources division, cited previous decrees that such extensions could open the door for others and would therefore be “contrary to the long-range development plans for public use of the national seashore.”

Other leaseholders who did not wish to be identified questioned the point of a takeover, citing negligent park management at nearby public areas—including Lairds Landing and Spenger’s Landing, where buildings acquired by the Seashore have been allowed to deteriorate to arguably unsafe levels.

None of the ten Duck Cove properties are currently used as primary residences, but most are used regularly and managed collectively by leaseholders. Water is shipped in, and each of the cottages is outfitted with electricity and a septic tank. The group also comes out twice a year to upkeep a small common area and one-lane road.

Richard Polese, whose parents purchased a half-acre property in the cove in the mid-1960s—years before the Seashore took over—was frustrated with the abruptness of the decision. “Personally, my sister and I felt an extension that would allow for a reasonable transition, say two to five years, would have been very acceptable for us,” he said. “We would have loved to work with [the Seashore] to make sure that the facilities are beneficially used for public access.”

Gress’ letter states that the Park Service is willing to help with moving expenses, but that, in most cases, reimbursement “will be limited to a 50-mile radius.”

In 1983, leaseholder Ellis Alden attempted to broker an extension by purchasing land in the region and donating it to the park. The deal was controversial and opposed by a number of local groups, including the Marin Conservation League, which called it “a shabby maneuver designed to subvert Congressional intent.” Alden’s proposal was ultimately denied.

Polese believes that current extensions would have made sense, given McDonald’s 50-year lease. Dell’Osso said that the Seashore “will continue to honor the 50-year [use permit] and will work with the owner to assure that they are able to access and use this parcel.”

It is unclear how utilities will be managed or what will happen to the surrounding structures.

“I don’t know that the park has a plan,” said leaseholder Carl Joerger, who grew up in the cove. “Ultimately, I’d like to see it taken back to its natural state—I’d like to take my kid and grandkids there—but I doubt personally that they have the resources to do that.”

Joerger questioned the Park Service’s decision to stagger the leaseholder’s eviction dates according to date of purchase, saying that it seemed inefficient and disorganized.

Myopic and unplanned park management have been common complaints of the Seashore in recent years. Controversy continues to swell over its handling of Lairds Landing, a former Miwok homestead and artist’s enclave that was subsumed into the Seashore in 1995. The park made some attempts to register the property as a national historic place, but the plans never materialized, in part because of limited funding.

Less is known about the current state of Spenger’s Landing, which at one time harbored several buildings and a pier. Historian Dewey Livingston said that most of the buildings had been dozed, but that the pier and large main house, which was built directly on the beach, are still standing.
“If the whole point is to let the public access these areas but then they’re left completely unsafe then what is the point,” one leaseholder asked. “Especially when there are people who are willing take care of them.”

Polese, whose parents lived at the cove full-time until just a few years ago, described the group of tenants as a very environmentally oriented crowd. “I was always impressed with the balance of natural life and benign human presence at the cove,” he said.