By Marce Gutiérrez | Published 2013/11/12
As the old saying goes, it takes losing what we love to truly appreciate it. Fortunately, sometimes a glimpse of a different scenario will do. Visiting the East Coast this week has offered me that glimpse, again, of what it is to not have public and unfettered access to the beach.
Can you imagine, what it would be like to have to pay a fee every time you wanted to visit a beach? In California, the simple right to go to the beach is considered as fundamental as our right to breath and free speech, but this is certainly not the case across the country.
For 40 years, protecting and enhancing public access to the coast has been at the heart of the Coastal Act. It is one of the Coastal Commission’s core issues. Yet, any law is only as strong as an agency’s ability to enforce it. The Coastal Commission sorely needs the authority to carry out its extremely important mandate. Every day, its backlog of over 1,800 open, unresolved violations grows faster than the staff can resolve them.
Yet, the Commission lacks the both the staff and the authority to levy fines. The result? Violators know they have little chance of getting caught. And if caught, they can delay resolution for years without fear of monetary penalties. So, the open beaches we are so proud of are not so for everybody, instead, they resemble the situation in the East Coast, where money is a necessity to simply access them.
Hopefully 2014 will give these same lawmakers another chance to do the right thing for their own constituents. Because everyone deserves the right of getting to and from the ocean easily, safely, and without feeling like they are unwelcome or undeserving.
California’s coast, beaches and ocean belong to all Californians, not just the ones lucky enough to see them from their home.