Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On the Beach

Well, it's happening again. There is a long tradition in California of developers trying to steal public land by blocking access to the general public. The beach may be free for anyone to use, but if builders block a way to sea, for all intent and purpose, that public land becomes private property.
Today's Los Angeles Times reports a more subtle attempt at a land grab. In order to get building permits and permission from the states coastal commission, developers of a high end, gated community at Orange County's Dana Point, offered up a plan with multiple access points to the beach, as well as an inclined railway to the sea. Seems like the money men were bending over backward to insure that swimmers, and surfers could easily get to the water.
But, things are not always what they seem. The fly in this particular ointment is an attempt to limit the hours that the public can use the beach. "Ah shucks, it's just a matter of privacy. Isn't it unfair that surfer dudes might loose their way on paths after dark and stumble onto people's lawns?" My guess is that if Headlands Reserve, the developer, is allowed to restrict access to certain hours, as time goes by, those hours will become even more restricted, with flimsier and flimsier excuses given until only the residents of the north strand gated community can get to the ocean. I understand that people who are paying millions of dollars for a home in a gated community might not want someone walking by their kitchen window with a surf board tucked under their arm, but the law has always been that public access to beaches is a right in California. It's not like the home owners didn't know, ahead of time, what came with those great ocean views.
California has a conservancy, set up by the state, to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains; a conservancy that has been so successful that it's been able to expand its reach to other local mountain ranges. It's time that California had a similar conservancy to preserve ocean beaches, river fronts, and stream banks. It would have been far better if the Dana Point headland had been preserved as open space by such a conservancy. Too, river and stream banks, when developed, have a tendency to prevent public access and free navigation in favor of a property right that, quite often, is nothing more than a de facto land grab. I know that proposing that all ocean front property and river and stream banks should be owned by the state sounds insanely ambitious, but I would remind readers that a sizable percentage of such lands are already preserved in California's many state and federal parks, and forests.

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