The struggle to preserve public access to the beach is spreading across the nation from California to Connecticut and from Florida to the Great Lakes. California’s beaches belong to all the people. The wealthy rich prick beachfront enclave of Malibu and media mogul David Geffen nevertheless filed suit to cut off the people’sright to reach the beach. A Newport Beach city councilmember opposes improvements to a public beach because “with grass we usually get Mexicans coming in there early in the morning and they claim it as theirs and it becomes their personal, private grounds all day.” People of color and low-income people suffer first and worst from the efforts to privatize public beaches. While eighty percent of the 34 million people of California live within an hour of the coast, disproportionately White and wealthy homeowners stand to benefit from the privatization of this public good, while communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately denied the benefit of coastal access.
Beaches are not a luxury. Beaches are a public space that provide a different set of rhythms to renew public life. Beaches are a democratic commons that bring people together as equals. People swim and splash in the waves, “people watch,” surf, wile away the afternoon under an umbrella, scamper between tide pools, or gaze off into the sunset. Public access to the beach is integral to democracy and equality. Rio de Janeiro, like Los Angeles, is marked by some of the greatest disparities between wealth and poverty in the world. Yet Rio’s famous beaches are open to all, rich and poor, Black and White. The beach in Rio is the great equalizer. California’s world famous beaches must also remain public for all, not the exclusive province of the rich and famous. The Connecticut Supreme Court has recognized the First Amendment right of non-residents to use a public beach against efforts by the city of Greenwhich to restrict access to its residents. A New Jersey appellate court has recognized the right of public access to reach the beach at a private club under the public trust doctrine. A Michigan court, however, has recently limited public access to the beach along Lake Michigan. In Florida, 60% of the “public” beaches are now “private.”
In order to make a difference before it gets to late The center For the law and Public Justice along with the Surfrider foundation have put together a “Free the Beach” campaign. For more information go to http://www.surfrider.org/media5.asp
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