Santa Cruz Beach Curfew


March 1, 2020

The City of Santa Cruz sought, as part of its beach management plan, a curfew at its Main Beach from midnight to 5 a.m. The adjacent beach, Cowell’s, already has a similar curfew, which the City asked to continue. In its application, the City listed “narcotic use, alcohol consumption and abuse, littering and trash, fires, water quality, camping, vendor storage and drug paraphernalia” as the reasons this curfew is necessary. Since most of what was listed is already illegal, opponents to the curfew argued that disallowing people on the beach would criminalize sleeping, sitting, generally hanging out and otherwise merely existing on the beach outside of the wet sand. (The curfew would exempt the wet sand in order to allow for surfing, swimming and walking along water’s edge.)

The City of Santa Cruz also stated that despite the nighttime access restriction on Cowell Beach, “criminal activity has been persistent and ongoing during the nighttime hours at Cowell Beach.” The City notes that the police department is too understaffed to effectively patrol the beach for existing crime, all of which raised the question of how the police will have enough staffing to enforce an extended curfew.

Commissioners approved the curfew in a split vote.

Why You Should Care

The California Coastal Commission has historically opposed beach curfews; the agency’s LCP update guidance states that “Closure to public use of any portion of the beach inland of the mean high tide line is not encouraged.” In the zone between “disallows” and “is not encouraged,” however, many conflicting issues of access, resource protection, social inequity, public safety, California’s homelessness crisis and the ability of jurisdictions to enforce our agreed-upon laws exists.


Pro-Coast Vote

Anti-Coast Vote

Several Commissioners expressed concern about the proposed beach curfew, which the City justified as necessary due to safety concerns, especially among the area’s unsheltered population who often spend time at the beach at night. Commissioner Zahirah Mann noted that “safety concerns” are often used to sometimes exclude different populations. Commissioner Erik Howell, who was among those voted against giving the city its permit, said curfews should be set in a way that is the least restrictive way possible. Some Commissioners also noted that creating a police state on the public’s beach could set a poor precedent for the rest of the state.

Organizations Opposed

Stepping up Santa Cruz

Decision Type

Coastal Development Permit

Staff Recommendation

Approval with Conditions

Coastal Act Policy