The county planners, bright and well-meaning chaps all, are kicking around a plan to enhance the natural beauty of Sands Beach with a big, fat parking lot.
Just like at Goleta Beach.
Goleta Beach is just a short drive away down Highway 217. Since the parking lot is right on the beach, you don’t even have to get out of your car to see what it’s like (if you can find a parking spot). There are people, and lots of them. They all drive their Acuras, Hondas, Fords, Mazdas, RVs and Toyotas out there; park on what used to be an inoffensive patch of sand; unload themselves; unload their stuff; and make themselves at home. Some of them, like the RVers, even stay overnight. They warm their chubby bodies in the sun’s rays, they shove Twinkies into their mouths and when they’re done they drop the wrappers on the ground. And they’re not alone: there are the stray cats, the raccoons, the seagulls and the crows. Everyone has a grand time except the species that isn’t there.
Goleta Beach used to be home to a threatened species, the western snowy plover.
The plover isn’t much, only a few McNuggets worth of bird, and it’s skittish. That’s understandable. It’s a small creature notably lacking in fangs, claws and body weight. Almost anything can kill and eat a plover. Besides ground beef, just about the only thing more defenseless than a plover is a plover chick, which can be killed and eaten by a crow. So plovers are shy. They refuse to make the bird with four wings with any critter larger than them nearby. They have a low birth rate, which was a fine evolutionary strategy back when humans and scavengers didn’t go to the beach to meet, great and eat. When nature’s ruder creations came to Goleta Beach – red in tooth and claw, fat in ass and thigh – the plovers either left or died.
But hey, everyone gets to park by the pretty beach. Public access, it’s called. That beach belongs to the state of California, by golly, the state would be damned if the taxpayers weren’t allowed to screw it up. And now the county is thinking about putting in a parking lot next to Sands Beach. New neighbors for the plovers. Guess who’s coming to dinner.
The public, of course, can already get to Sands Beach and the Coal Oil Point Reserve. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump towards the ocean from the western end of Del Playa Drive. Anyone willing to take a short walk can get to Sands. Surfers, joggers, lovers and dog walkers already go there. Surely a little parking lot – just 10 or 20 spots – won’t be a problem. It’s just some asphalt and a few more people. The plovers can deal with it. If they can’t, well they’re just birds and there’s plenty more coast.
Except there isn’t, plovers are picky and 10 percent of the West Coast’s plovers live on Sands Beach. There are 34.5 million Californians and only 1,800 plovers on the Pacific Coast. Math sucks if you’re a plover.
Plovers are not doing so hot. Last year – a good year, an unexpectedly wonderful year for local plovers – there were two plover chicks on Sands Beach. One of them was eaten by a crow on the first day. This is why most plovers go to Vandenburg to get it on – Vandenburg is closed to humans.
Humans are lousy for most birds except for seagulls and, in wartime, vultures. We trample and we litter. Most of us are too lazy to meet nature on its own terms, much less care about other species. Plovers lead lives of feathered desperation, skittering about the waves. Plovers have never built a concentration camp or bought a Kenny G album. Plovers and people don’t seem destined to get along.
Except, right now, at Sands Beach, we do. Those surfers, joggers, lovers and dog walkers haven’t managed to kill off the plovers. The plovers are doing better, even. They might do better yet with some more help. Just not with a parking lot.