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Judge upholds nude sunbathing at beach

August 28, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Visitors to a stretch of San Onofre State Beach will still need extra sunblock for those hard-to-reach places, thanks to a legal victory Wednesday for nudists who frequent the spot.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Sheila Fell ruled that state parks officials can cite sunbathers and swimmers in the buff only if a member of the public complains.

After complaints of lewd behavior earlier this year, state parks officials announced a crackdown on completely bared bodies at Trail 6 near Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County. Signs warning against nakedness appeared, and parks officials warned that after Labor Day, beachgoers in birthday suits would be cited.

The naturists sued the California Department of Parks and Recreation, alleging that tighter enforcement -- a departure from a decades-old tolerance of beach bumming sans clothes -- required a public hearing.

"It's going to be a nice, happy weekend," said R. Allen Baylis, 53, a Huntington Beach attorney and head of the nudist activist group Friends of San Onofre, both petitioners in the suit. "We're really pleased that the court agreed with our position. It shows that the government has to be responsive to the public that they serve."

The state parks department had long abided by a policy outlined in a 1979 memo from the then-director of the department, saying that fully exposed visitors would be subject to enforcement "only upon the complaint of a private citizen."

Judge Fell's ruling stipulated that any change to that policy was subject to a public hearing under the Administrative Procedure Act.

State parks officials had not received a copy of the ruling by late Wednesday afternoon. But even though they "don't agree" with the court's decision, they plan to follow the judge's directive, said Ken Kramer, state parks district superintendent.

As for whether the department plans to appeal the decision, schedule a public hearing or maintain the bare-it-all status quo, "it's premature to say what our next steps might be," said spokesman Roy Stearns.

Other state park sites allow skinny-dipping and naked volleyball, among other pursuits, but Wednesday's ruling applies only to San Onofre.

Baylis suggested that parks officials tighten up enforcement in the beach's parking area, known as a popular cruising site advertised on Craigslist.com, a problem he said was unrelated to nudists.

For his part, Baylis plans to catch some rays this weekend and hand out naturist fliers, wearing only his mustache.

His only worry? "I might run out of sunscreen."

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susannah.rosenblatt @latimes.com

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