The 6-foot wall of wood pilings blocking Ventura Harbor's waterfront promenade serves notice to strollers that the Ventura Yacht Club is off-limits.
And that's exactly how it's going to stay, say club leaders, who this week scrapped plans for a major expansion rather than agree to city requirements for a public path through their back yard.
The wall is the only obstacle to visitors walking from the shops and restaurants of Ventura Harbor Village to the harbor's chief tourist attraction, the Channel Islands National Park headquarters. Pedestrians must detour on a sidewalk that leads them away from the harbor to the roadside.
Cmdr. Stan Whisenhunt, head of the boating group of more than 200 members, Monday failed to sway the Ventura City Council on the issue. Last month city officials had insisted a walkway be constructed as part of the yacht club's plans to triple the size of its clubhouse.
"There isn't physically the room to install a sidewalk in front of what is virtually our living room and still afford the club any privacy or security," said Whisenhunt, who is also managing editor of the Ventura County Star-Free Press.
Chuck Stanton, the club's vice commodore, added: "The way you see the yacht club now is the way you will see it in 50 years."
The City Council's decision, which came after 1 1/2 hours of public testimony and color slide shows from both proponents and opponents of a walkway, was more a product of default than any intended action.
Mayor Jim Monahan and Councilman Bill Crew both abstained because they are yacht club members. Councilman Richard Francis also abstained because he recently applied for membership. The remaining council members ended up deadlocked 2 to 2.
"It's going to require a sacrifice, a loss of privacy," said Councilman Don Villeneuve, who supported the walkway. "But that privacy, I think, is somewhat inappropriate."
The 50-year-old yacht club, which has been at 1755 Spinnaker Drive since 1964, proposed enlarging its clubhouse from 3,465 square feet to 10,635 square feet. The project would have included expanded locker facilities, a kitchen, bar and banquet room.
But the seven-member city Planning Commission, where two members also abstained because they belong to the club, voted 4 to 1 last month to require that the project include a public promenade along the club's 350-foot waterfront.
Community Development Director Everett Millais, in a report to the council, said such a condition was consistent with the city's 1981 Local Coastal Plan, which requires that shoreline access be incorporated into all new waterfront development and into the expansion of existing facilities.
Calling the yacht club the only "missing link" on the harbor's western promenade, Millais wrote, "This may be the last opportunity that the city has to complete the walkway through this section of the harbor area."
But club leaders, besides raising concerns about privacy and security, said the city in 1982 had required a walkway rerouting pedestrians around the club grounds, when a 360-square-foot laundry and restroom facility was built there.
"We were told at the time, and we have it in writing from city staff members, that we therefore were in compliance with all requirements," Whisenhunt said.
Nevertheless, in his report, Millais said that the 1982 expansion was only a minor change to the clubhouse and that the accompanying perimeter sidewalk "did not absolve the yacht club of the responsibility to provide a walkway along the waterfront at some future date."
Councilwoman Nan Drake, anticipating that the yacht club would scrap its plans if a shoreline path were required, urged the council to make an exception.
"I have a real feeling its not going to be a win-win situation," she said. "It's going to be a lose-lose."