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Preserving night-time beach access

The California Coastal Commission understands cities concerned about crime. But unilaterally imposing beach curfews is unacceptable.

December 09, 2010|By Bonnie Neeley

The Times' Nov. 23 editorial on local municipalities imposing beach curfews was well intentioned but misinformed. While recognizing fundamental public beach access rights and acknowledging that allowing local governments unilateral discretion over beach closures – which the California Coastal Commission opposes -- is not a good idea, the editorial the commission's historic approach to dealing with this issue.

The Commission is always concerned about public safety issues and takes them into careful consideration when reviewing locally imposed access restrictions. Starting from a presumption in favor of expansive public access rights, that position is subject to application of facts and circumstances in each particular case.

For more than 30 years the commission has dealt with local governments seeking to control where, when and how the public can enjoy the beach and access State waters. It has never found that nighttime public use problems warrant dusk-to-dawn closures. Where legitimate public safety concerns are raised, we work with local law enforcement to craft customized solutions that avoid sweeping, unwarranted closures. In some places this may involve a shorter curfew to avoid overnight camping; in others it may mean closure of specific parking lots or removal of fire rings. This was our approach in Long Beach, Coronado and Laguna Beach, to name a few places.

Unfortunately, we often find that public access restrictions imposed by local government are motivated by political pressure from residents annoyed by the presence of outsiders. In those cases the commission stands firmly for protecting public access rights. Safeguarding public coastal access, after all, was a primary reason the Coastal Commission was created.

Public use and enjoyment of our beaches is not limited to daylight hours. For every troublemaker there are many more law-abiding citizens who come to the beach at night to walk in moonlight or under the stars seeking tranquility, relaxation, spiritual renewal or self-contemplation. Whether taking a stroll after the graveyard shift, hitting the waves in the dark before dawn or watching the moon set with a lover, the public has a right to enjoy California's coast at all hours but within reason.

People fortunate enough to reside on or near a beach should realize they are privileged to live adjacent to public space and must accommodate the impacts associated with public use. Of course residents have a right to expect reasonable law enforcement when needed. If local government doesn't provide this essential service, residents can petition their elected officials for a reallocation of resources. Sweeping beach closures are not the answer.

The Coastal Commission has a solid record of working with local governments to implement solutions that address legitimate public safety concerns while at the same time protecting public access rights. We will work with Los Angeles, as we have done statewide, to find mutually acceptable solutions.

What neither we nor the public want or need is wasteful litigation to confirm long-established public coastal access rights. If reason and common sense are brought to the table, we are confident a meaningful outcome can be achieved.

Bonnie Neeley is chairwoman of the California Coastal Commission.

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