In 1971 when I was seven, I accompanied my mother and little brother Nicky to the sand dunes on the southern edge of the Silver Strand’s bayside in Coronado.
I can still remember the shock and fear I felt when a security guard with a gun approached us.
“This is private property and you are trespassing,” he said as we bathed along the shore (the area was later developed as the Coronado Cays).
My English mother, who had first encountered the very public beaches of England after surviving the Battle of Britain while a child in war torn London, was outraged.
“How dare that man scare us with his gun while we enjoy the beach.”
That incident occurred just before the California voters approved the passage of the Coastal Act in 1972, which authorized the formation of the Coastal Commission.
“Without the Coastal Act and the Commission, the coast would be inaccessible to ordinary people,” said Patricia McCoy a former member of the Coastal Commission who lives in Imperial Beach.
My oldest son Israel spent the summer working as a California State Lifeguard at the Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado. “I really noticed how truly happy people are at the beach and how many different types of people use the beach,” he said.
“I never take for granted the California’s stunning coast, or the foresight of those who passed the Coastal Act four decades ago to keep it accessible to people all over the state,” said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The problem with the Coastal Commission is that the agency, “Can set the rules, but it can’t enforce them,” said Chad Nelsen of the Surfrider Foundation. “Imagine what the roads would be like if the police couldn’t issue traffic tickets. That is essentially the plight of the Coastal Commission with regard to beach access.”
Ten years ago, Wallace “J.” Nichols (who worked with me at WILDCOAST at the time) trekked the 1,200 miles from Oregon to Mexico along the coastal trail. “I witnessed first hand the diversity of people who love the ocean and I saw how some people, particularly around LA, were fighting to keep it for themselves, despite clear laws protecting the coast and providing public access for all.”
For Warner Chabot, “The Coastal Act initiative was the result of public outrage over landowners blocking access to the coast. Now there are more than 1,944 Coast Act violations of which 690 are in Los Angeles County and of those 533 are in Malibu, and 123 are in San Diego.”
To remedy this situation, Assemblymember Toni Atkins from San Diego has introduced AB 976, which would give the California Coastal Commission the ability to levy limited fines for Coastal Act violations. A similar enforcement tool is already in place for 21 other state regulatory agencies, including the State Water Board, Air Board and the State Lands Commission.
“Free and open coastal access is critical to the health and well-being of our communities,” said Ben McCue of Outdoor Outreach, an organization that takes kids from low-income communities on outings to the beach.
Making sure everyone can use the beach will require agencies to enforce the laws that voters passed. We should ensure that private property owners cannot continue to obstruct the natural and legal rights of the public to enjoy resources that belong to us all.
After all, “A day at the beach is a right all Californians are entitled to enjoy,” said Marce Gutierrez of Azul.
- Coastal Protection in Question: How Strong is a Law You Can’t Enforce? (greenroots.pcl.org)