We’ve reported before on the mini legal skirmish underway in beautiful, sunny, sometimes-magical Santa Cruz over public access to Privates, a beach and soft-ish reefbreak along a relatively secluded cove just east of Pleasure Point. And this week, the California Coastal Commission and the party attempting to keep Privates relatively private came to renewed loggerheads.
To bring you quickly up to speed, here’s a brief overview from a piece I wrote a couple years back.
Since the 1940s, there has been a locked gate fronting Opal Cliffs Beach, often called "Privates," a small Santa Cruz beach just east of The Hook, with a soft, longboard-friendly point/reef wave out front, and a delightful cove with the occasional sunning nudist on the sand. If the Hook is too crowded (it always is) and Pleasure Point is too Pleasure-Pointy, Opal Cliffs is just a short-ish paddle away. Unless, of course, you've purchased a key(card) to the gate. $100 to a local surf shop, and that little bit of exclusivity-granting rectangular plastic could be yours. This wasn't buying you a whole lot, necessarily, besides a clean park at the top of the cliffs and a nice stairway to the beach, because you can always paddle into the Opal Cliffs zone, or walk into the cove on the lowest of tides. Still, it's a clean, relatively pristine and uncrowded beach in the middle of what is very much a busy suburban beach town. A little bit of elbow room is greatly appreciated by the locals who've bought a key, and the paddle into the place has kept the lineup at least a body or two less crowded than neighboring breaks. (read the rest here)
Since that piece was published, the CCC put their foot down and told the Opal Cliffs Recreation District, who manage the gate, to file for the proper permit to charge admission, and were debating whether or not to legally demand the removal of the gate altogether. That was all supposed to be resolved this week, until, the lawyer representing the OCRD said, effectively, “nah.”
The CCC was apparently demanding free entry to the beach all year long, and a shorter gate (the current gate is an unclimbable 9-feet). It’s unclear why the OPRD would accept those terms since the whole point of the gate is to raise money for beach maintenance and to keep crowds to a minimum. It’s equally unclear what legal leg they have to stand on.
But the CCC is charged with not only protecting the coastal environment, but ensuring access to all Californias, regardless of whether they can afford the real estate or entry fees to get to the sand.
"It’s like a private beach club," Patrick Veesart, CCC rep for Northern California told the L.A. Times. "You're using money to filter out people who are not local, who don't live in multimillion-dollar homes right by the ocean… This is a case that could set really bad precedents."
Mark Massara, an attorney for the OCRD responded: "They're chasing ghosts and fighting a problem that doesn't exist. The commission has enormous social justice issues up and down the coast — this isn't one of them."
The beach, by the way, is currently free to access during the day, from Memorial to Labor Day. It’s only during the spring, winter, fall and at night that the gates come crashing down. Locals claim the fees for the key card keep vagrants and drifters from wrecking the joint, and point to the olden days of junkies leaving needles on the beach and out of control bonfires. The CCC says the gate is illegal and the fees are too high for low-income families.
"Buy a key and support the community and the beach," Robert “Wingnut” Weaver told the L.A. Times. "If you don’t respect how special this is and want it for free, that just seems unfair."
So, with both sides regrouping for another round of legal skirmishes, the public waits with bated breath, some with key cards in their hands to see how this all shakes out. The CCC, meanwhile, is still dealing with prying open a slice of Hollister Ranch to the public and the neverending nuisance of Vinod Khosla’s wealthy hands trying to close a beach he rarely even visits, simply out of spite it seems.
Feels very likely the question of public access to the few private beaches left in California will be answered soon. Stay tuned.