Securing beach access for everyone

  • A surfer is framed by street signs, a sign pointing to coastal access, and a pair of signs restricting public right of way and parking, August 31, 2011, in Malibu. According to the California Coastal Commission, many parking signs posted along the Malibu coastline are unauthorized and erected by property owners seeking to restrict public use of local beaches. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

<i>This editorial is from the Sacramento Bee:</i>

Summer ought to be a day at the beach in California. But for some years now, too many people have been blocked from the sand.

By law, California's coast is public property beyond the mean high tide line. But as property values have soared, some beachfront homeowners have connived, beach by beach and summer by summer, to effectively privatize some of the state's most breathtaking stretches of coastline.

Their tools?

Whatever trickery it takes to block the pathways and trails intended for public access: bogus red curbs, strategically placed boulders, illegal fences, fake "no parking" and "no trespassing" signs.

The sand grabs have been as hard to control as they are shameless, partly because the California Coastal Commission's only real enforcement tool was to file a lawsuit, which rich homeowners would then string out for years.

This, however, is shaping up to be a different kind of summer, thanks to some deft legislative maneuvering by new Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego.

Thwarted in an attempt last year to let the commission impose fines for violations of the California Coastal Act's access provisions, Atkins managed this month to get the provision into a trailer bill for the recently signed budget.

Now, starting July 1, landowners who illegally block the beach will get 30 days to fix the problem or remove whatever obstacle they erected. If they refuse, the penalty can range from a few hundred dollars to $11,250 a day, for as long as five years.

Atkins told the Sacramento Bee's editorial board on Wednesday that she was motivated by notorious violations in Malibu and other bastions of entitlement in Southern California, and by the way they intimidate people in neighborhoods like one in San Diego, where some 85 languages and dialects are spoken and the median annual income is about $24,000.

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