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No tan lines remain an option

An O.C. judge rules tentatively that the state must hold a public hearing before it can ban nudity at San Onofre State Beach.

August 21, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Sunbathers at San Onofre State Beach can still bare it all -- at least for now -- under a tentative ruling issued by an Orange County Superior Court judge.

The nudists are suing state parks officials over the pending crackdown on au naturel recreation at the shore just south of the Orange County line. A final ruling is expected within days.

Complaining of increased lewd conduct, the state Department of Parks and Recreation had announced plans to prohibit nudity on the Trail 6 beach area after Labor Day.

In court Wednesday, Deputy Atty. Gen. Deborah Fletcher, representing the state parks, argued that the policy governing nudity in state parks was not a formal regulation but rather "an enforcement guideline" and therefore could be changed without notice to the public.

Though state law doesn't allow for clothing-optional areas in parks, the policy, written by a former parks director in the 1970s, suggests that citations should be made only after a member of the public complains and the violators do not voluntarily cover up.

Naturist R. Allen Baylis filed suit against state parks officials last month, complaining that the nudity ban alters a long-standing policy and requires a public hearing under the state's Administrative Procedure Act.

Judge Sheila Fell tentatively ruled earlier this week that state parks officials must hold a public hearing if their enforcement on nude beach-going changes. She has 90 days to issue a final ruling, but attorneys expect it much sooner.

"Departments can't just come out and jerk the rugs out from people's feet without the public being heard," said Elva Kopacz, the attorney representing Baylis and nudist organizations Naturist Action Committee and Friends of San Onofre Beach.

She raised concerns in court about rangers photographing nude beachgoers from the bluffs above the park, as well as the newly installed signs that warn against nudity in the area. Fell said the photography issue was outside the case's purview but would quickly issue an opinion on the signage.

Parks officials expressed disappointment at Fell's decision.

"We did not agree with the court's tentative ruling," said Ken Kramer, a district superintendent with the state parks department. "We are pleased that the judge is taking a closer look at it. Once the final ruling is issued, we will explore our options at that point."

Kramer would not speculate as to what would happen at the Trail 6 beach after Labor Day.

Outside court, Kopacz went on to distinguish between the clothing-optional beachgoers and the criminal activity allegedly occurring in the beach's parking lots. If the naturists ultimately lose their case, Kopacz said, they were willing to pursue other options. But he declined to elaborate.

Baylis expressed confidence that Fell would ultimately rule in the nudists' favor.

He likened the naturists to off-road riders or BMX bikers in their specialized recreational pursuit and expressed fear that a ruling against his group could end nude beaches across California.

"Some people choose to be offended by the human body," said Baylis, who wore a gray suit and maroon tie to court. "Many of us choose not to be offended by it."

Meanwhile, pending Fell's final ruling, the Department of Parks and Recreation must allow clothing-optional visitors to Trail 6.

According to the judge, naked beachgoers can be cited only in response to a public complaint and if they refuse to comply with law enforcement's subsequent requests.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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