Why Enforcing the Coastal Act Matters

That me on the right with my brother Nicky, my mother, and my Uncle Emile in San Felipe either in 1972 or 1973.

Beachtime when I was a kid. My mother and little brother Nicky are on the left.

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.

The boys and I sharing a wave.

The boys and I sharing a wave.

“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.”

Wallace J. Nichols

Wallace J. Nichols

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.”

Malibu beach access signs designed to mislead the public.

Malibu beach access signs designed to mislead the public.

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.

With my sons israel and Daniel.

Everyone has the right to use and enjoy our coast. it is a public trust for all!

Remembering Peter Douglas, California’s Coastal Hero

On the day last week that I heard that Peter Douglas, the 26-year executive director of the California Coastal Commission, had passed away, I spent the morning surfing Upper Trestles.

On my dawn patrol down the trail that meanders along San Mateo Creek, I scanned for wildlife, and smiled when I came upon the sandy beach that delivers surfers into the cobblestone reef and waves at Upper Trestles, a masterpiece of natural engineering.

The surf was firing and the small crowd was friendly.

California bliss.

Greg Long and groms at the Del Mar Feb. 6, 2008, Coastal Commission on the fate of Trestles.

It was fortuitous that I happened to be at Trestles that morning.

Because if Peter had not lived and dreamed of a coastline in California that belonged to us all, there just might not be a San Mateo Creek or surf at Trestles.

“Peter Douglas is to the California Coast what John Muir was to the Sierra Nevadas,” said Surfrider Foundation CEO Jim Moriarty.

The watershed and wetlands of lower San Mateo Creek, part of a California State Park, would have been destroyed by a toll road.

Trestles as we know it would be gone.

The architect of Proposition 20, the citizen’s referendum that established the Coastal Commission, Peter was also one of the principal authors of the Coastal Act, arguably the greatest single piece of legislation worldwide that provides a blueprint for conserving and safeguarding our greatest public trust.

More groms at the Save Trestles hearings.

“Peter was one of the most humble, effective ocean heroes of all time,” said Wallace “J.” Nichols, the marine biologist who I co-founded WiLDCOAST with.

Without Peter, not only would we not have many of our most treasured public beaches, in many cases, we would not have access to much of our coastline.

“In the summer of 2003 our family trekked the entire coast of California,” said Nichols.  “The enduring beauty of that mega-transect, owes so much to the battles fought and won by Peter Douglas. His legacy provides unmeasurable emotional and cognitive benefits to the world each day through the beauty of our protected coast and ocean.”

Besides the fact that Peter was a force of nature, he was a dedicated public servant who took his mission to safeguard our coast for all very seriously despite the political fallout it caused him.

One of his many strengths was his capacity to treat people with respect and to make the commission meetings, known for their length and ability to test the patience of anyone, more humane.

“Peter Douglas always made it a priority for he and the Coastal Commission staff to listen to and respond to Surfrider members and local stakeholders,” said Pierce Flynn, former executive director of the Surfrider Foundation. “This ‘local listening’ was a key to Douglas’ and the Coastal Commission’s successes.”

As a first generation American raised on the public beaches of California, who proudly worked as a California Ocean Lifeguard, I thank Peter and the Coastal Commission every time I surf and enjoy the beach with my family.

What really motivated Peter was his absolute joy in the coast and ocean and his belief that everyone has a right to share in the richness of our coastal heritage.

“We had a late afternoon tour that extended into the early evening at South San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge with Peter,” said Andy Yuen, project leader
 for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

“We were standing on the Refuge levees with the soft sunset glow reflecting off the ponds and San Diego Bay, birds wheeling overhead, and you could tell that Peter was completely jazzed that this special piece of San Diego Bay was conserved for wildlife.”

The California coastline is where we get to experience the joy of nature and the roar of the surf.

Where we share in the laughter of our children as they build their first sandcastle and play in the waves.

Where we spend hours around campfires telling stories and singing songs with our friends and family.

In California, the coast is our life. And our life is the coast.

We can thank Peter Douglas for that.

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