June 20 2013
The Surfrider Foundation won an important victory today when the Honorable Terry O'Rourke and Cynthia Aaron concluded that the Coastal Commission has the authority for oversight of beach access at Strands Beach, which should put an end to the City’s bogus nuisance claims used to avoid beach access. Effectively, the decision means that if the City of Dana Point continues to fail to open the locked gates and expand the restrictive access hours for Strands Beach, the Coastal Commission can take an enforcement action.
"This opinion is even better for Surfrider Foundation than the trial court’s ruling because it sets a statewide precedent confirming the strength of the Coastal Commission and the Coastal Act to protect our beach access rights," says Surfrider Foundation Legal Director Angela Howe. "Not only will access at Dana Point Strands Beach be protected through this ruling, but other municipalities and developers will be stopped from abusing nuisance abatement authority to the detriment of public access."
In June 2010, on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation, McDermott Will & Emery LLP filed a lawsuit against the City of Dana Point, challenging its unlawful restriction of beach access at Strands Beach by erecting gates and limiting hours at two access ways to the public beach at Strands. The lawsuit was instigated in response to the City’s illegal restrictions on beach access through the passage of an Urgency Ordinance on March 22, 2010, in an attempt to supersede the Coastal Commission’s requirement to open beach access.
The City attempted to enact an ordinance that cites “public nuisance” conditions in an attempt to set restrictive hours on the public’s use of the Mid-Strands access. The police report cited speculative “sex parties,” “homeless encampments,” “vandalism,” and “spring break traffic” as reasons to enact the urgency ordinance. However, Judge Lewis’ trial court ruling found this evidence to be “pure speculation” and “entirely lacking.”
The Appellate Court also declined to rule on the trial court’s decision on the Surfrider Foundation case because the Coastal Commission now has the necessary jurisdiction to enforce maximum access provisions of the Coastal Act and that may solve the access issue.
“This is excellent precedent-setting interpretation of 30005(b), which is the nuisance abatement provision of the Coastal Act,” continues Howe. “ Now California cities cannot try to use that loophole to avoid the coastal protection and beach access safeguards of the Coastal Act.”
“Although this may seem a small victory, it's really huge because it supports the big picture of coastal access and upholds the Coastal Act in California, which guarantees public access to beaches,” said Rick Erkeneff, Chairman of the Surfrider Foundation South Orange County Chapter. “Many states in the U.S. have beach access issues that restrict public use, and this further demonstrates that California is the shining example of coastal protections for all.”