Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why are California beaches free to the public?

As a former Californian (and a Californian at heart), I was horrified to learn that some beaches in other parts of the world charge admission.

Image courtesy Andrew Osterberg.

Free beaches are, sadly, not the norm.

California is a special place. The state constitution even carves out a public right to access beaches:
No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage or tidal lands. . . shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water . . . so that access to the navigable waters of this State shall always be attainable for the people thereof. 
Article X, Sec. 4.

California Proposition 20--and four years later, the 1976 California Coastal Commission Act--set up the California Coastal Commission, a state agency charged with protecting the state's coastline. Part of its mission is to ensure public access for recreation.

According to Molly Selvin, Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Programs at Southwestern Law School, the "public trust" doctrine underpinning these laws is what has kept California beaches open to the public.

What is the dividing line? Wet sand and dry sand! California law carves out the land below the median high tide line as public.

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