Summer ought to be a day at the beach in California. But for some years now, too many people have been blocked from the sand.
By law, California's coast is public property beyond the mean high tide line. But as property values have soared, some beachfront homeowners have connived, beach by beach and summer by summer, to effectively privatize some of the state's most breathtaking stretches of coastline.
Whatever trickery it takes to block the pathways and trails intended for public access: bogus red curbs, strategically placed boulders, illegal fences, fake "no parking" and "no trespassing" signs.
The sand grabs have been as hard to control as they are shameless, partly because the California Coastal Commission's only real enforcement tool was to file a lawsuit, which rich homeowners would then string out for years.
This, however, is shaping up to be a different kind of summer, thanks to some deft legislative maneuvering by new Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego.
Thwarted in an attempt last year to let the commission impose fines for violations of the California Coastal Act's access provisions, Atkins managed this month to get the provision into a trailer bill for the recently signed budget.
Now, starting July 1, landowners who illegally block the beach will get 30 days to fix the problem or remove whatever obstacle they erected. If they refuse, the penalty can range from a few hundred dollars to $11,250 a day, for as long as five years.
Atkins told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board on Wednesday that she was motivated by notorious violations in Malibu and other bastions of entitlement in Southern California, and by the way, they intimidate people in neighborhoods like one in San Diego where some 85 languages and dialects are spoken and the median annual income is about $24,000.
The poor, she pointed out, don't tend to wonder whether a "no parking" sign in a rich beach neighborhood really ought to be there. It's hard enough for some just to muster the nerve to go to the beach in the first place.
"If those people came to the coast and saw a sign that said, 'Do Not Enter,' they just wouldn't enter," she said.
All Californians owe a debt of gratitude to Atkins on this one. Beach access in some areas has been blocked for years, and not just in Malibu.
There's the Live Oak area of Santa Cruz County, so full of fake "no parking" signs that coastal commissioners have talked about its "Malibuization."
There's the guy near the Santa Monica Mountains coastal trail who has strung razor wire in the chaparral to keep hikers from passing near his compound.
There's the San Diego County developer who simply chose not to build the bluff-top trail that was a condition of his project. There's Martin's Beach near Half Moon Bay, bought and blocked by a billionaire from Silicon Valley.
The list goes on. These enforcement powers are long past due for the commission.
Californians deserve their day at the beach.
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