Does closure of a public parking lot turn Lions Bay beach into residents-only haven?

With the number of park visitors limited to 100, the municipality is using parking as a way to control access. At least one visitor says this turns a valued public resource into a private beach for residents.

To Mike Brown, the closure of a public parking lot in Lions Bay makes it hard for his young family to enjoy one of the North Shore’s best family-friendly beaches.

To the municipality, using parking as a way to control the number of beach visitors is all about safety.

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During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the public beach and its adjoining play area were closed. Then, as restrictions were lifted, people were allowed back. However, the beach and park are relatively small. In order to maintain safe physical distancing, fewer than 100 people can be there at any one time, says Peter DeJong, chief administrative officer of the Village of Lions Bay.

Before it broke for its summer hiatus, council in late June made the decision not to re-open the 25 nearby public parking spots at the CN lot. Like other jurisdictions, controlling public parking was seen as one of the best ways of controlling overcrowding.

“We are not unwelcoming. We are not elitist. Safety is our primary concern,” says councillor Jaime Cunliffe. “It’s merely a numbers game. … In normal times we’re more than happy to have people come.”

She notes that fear of coronavirus is also keeping many residents, especially seniors, away from the beach. Some residents say that allowing 100 people is too risky. Those concerns became heightened after provincial health authorities announced there had been a potential community spread of COVID-19 in early August.

The municipality has already increased the cleaning contract for the park from once a week to twice a day. Council felt it would have been too expensive to hire additional bylaw officers to patrol the area to police the crowd size, Cunliffe says.

But in a mountainside village where summertime parking is already at a premium, especially now that its access to trails and provincial parks is becoming more well known, Brown argues that the lack of public parking turns the beach into a residents-only escape.

“This is meant to be a public space,” Brown, a West Vancouver resident, says. “Obviously, COVID-19 is an issue, but making the beach accessible only to people who have parking permits doesn’t seem fair. It becomes a prime private beach.”

Brown’s children are 10 and 12. The beach is one of the best within driving range: it’s sandy with a gradual incline, a swim area is roped off and there’s a floating platform to jump off of. Up the hill, there’s a change room, washroom, playground equipment and a flat grassy area that’s perfect for picnicking. On weekends, you’re always smart to come early to nab one of the paid-parking spots — one of which will cost $24 if you want to spend the entire day there.

“It’s a fantastic place,” he says. But now, with the lack of public parking, it’s a place denied.

Lions Bay beach playground
The playground above Lions Bay beach is ideal for young families. There's also a change room and public washrooms, as well as flat ground that's ideal for picnics. - Martha Perkins

DeJong and Cunliffe understand Brown’s frustration. Across the province, outdoor parks are being stretched to their limits. The province had to impose a day-pass system at six of the most popular provincial parks closest to Metro Vancouver. “I live in Whistler and we’ve been slammed with a ton of people — in a bad way,” DeJong says. Cunliffe says that many times local residents walk down to the beach only to find there’s too many people there. Seniors, who are the backbone of the community, don’t feel safe there any more.

Unfortunately, closure of the beach parking area coincides with a planned closure of the Kelvin Grove parking area because the municipality is replacing its waste water treatment plant. With no parking, people are getting access to a popular cliff jumping area by trespassing on the CN rail line, which is creating a new set of safety concerns.

On a recent Saturday, the CN police wrote 15 tickets there, mayor Ron McLaughlin said in a public letter. On July 15, an off-duty public works staff member wrote 17 tickets in an hour and 15 minutes.

“Our enforcement battle is not only at Kelvin Grove,” McLaughlin wrote. “Last year from April to July 23 we wrote 377 tickets. For the same period this year we have written 427 tickets. Our bylaw enforcement officers are exhausted from the volume of work and are continually being confronted during the performance of their duty. ... We really are putting all hands on deck to send the strongest message we can.”

To compensate for the parking lot closures, the municipality asked the local school district to open a parking lot at the school. It publicizes where to find parking throughout the village and also encourages people to take the 262 TransLink/Bluebus.

Cunliffe recommends that people come early if they want to find a spot at the beach. And it might be good to have a Staycation Plan B, especially on weekends.

“We know people are going through a lot; this whole thing has been a challenge, mentally and physically for everybody,” DeJong adds. While it’s important to socialize with family and friends and have places to escape to, he also reminds people to not gather in large groups and to keep their bubble small.

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