STATE OF THE BEACH: Will Governator Terminate Beaches?

It's Thursday, January 10th, 2008, and the year could be off to a very dry start here in Southern California. Word was released today concerning Governor Schwarzenegger's new budget proposals, and many people are not pleased. While countless solutions to digging the state out of debt exist, Schwarzenegger has drafted a plan which includes a proposition to close many Southern California State Beaches. "We don't know what exactly it will entail yet, but about 1 in 5 beaches could be affected," said Director of Communications for the Surfrider Foundation, Matt McClain. "San Onofre, Will Rogers, San Clemente State Beach, Bolsa Chica, Carlsbad, Topanga and Mt. Jacinto state parks would all be closed to visitors." But why? And what would this mean for surfers, and can they really do this?

If the beaches were closed, it would mean that seasonal staff and lifeguards would be laid off, saving the state's budget their salaries and benefits. As reported in today's Los Angeles Times, "the park plan would save $13 million." In the scheme of things, the stipend seems quite unsubstantial.

Thankfully, here in California, we are lucky enough to be protected by the California Coastal Act of 1976. In short it states that the public has a right to go to the beach. The Scots can run around the Highlands without worries of trespassing, and we can stroll, swim and surf where we please. Our brethren in states like Maine and Massachusetts, however, are not so lucky, as McClain explains: "In Maine and Massachusetts someone can own the beach, and kick you off." If the Governator is indeed keen on passing his proposed plans, how can he make it happen in keeping with the Coastal Act?

At this point, it's nearly all speculative; however, removing the ease of access to certain hot spots such as San O. and Bolsa Chica would be very efficient. "If there was swell and (San O.) was closed," McClain asks, "where can you park? At Carl's Jr. and walk into San O.?" He raises a good point; the hike would be a backbreaker if you were hauling a log all the way down to the point. A huge inconvenience to most, some might argue it would benefit spots that have become overrun. In true form, the message board was hot on the topic, with some supporting the latter line of thinking: "Good. Less kooks, more core."

But how likely is this fate? McClain, for one, isn't getting too nervous just yet. "The general feeling is that the Governor will use this to try to initiate law makers and others into adopting a tax increase. The best analogy I can make goes back one to two years when a Democratic Senator advocated bringing back the draft to get out of Iraq quicker. It's a shock and awe thing." When it comes down to it, the public parks bring in vast sums of money to local and state government, and coastal communities up and down the coast are greatly supported by beachgoers. Could we really afford to lose that? Not to mention the lifeguards that might get laid off and the subsequent unguarded beaches. With destinations like Disney and Knott's Berry Farm charging upwards of $60, the beach has offered what most would agree is a far better experience for far less. Hypothetically speaking, if Lifeguards were laid off, it is likely that people would still make their way to the beach. Without the patrolling guards, though, it could become disastrous.

So what's in store for California's beaches? From oil spills to developmental debates plaguing the waters, who would have guessed restriction to pop up on the list? While it might be too early to panic, it's never too early to get informed.

Check out the message board and voice your opinion.

For your edification, The California Coastal Act.