Staley Prom, Esq., is Surfrider Foundation Legal Associate. Surfrider Foundation is one of the largest non-profit grassroots organizations dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.
No, cities cannot close beaches in the name of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; especially without sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
The San Diego Superior Court concluded as much four years ago, in Surfrider v. City of Dana Point, when the court held that the City’s “urgency ordinance” declaring a nuisance and restricting beach access via the Strand Vista Park at the Headlands in Dana Point was entirely lacking in evidentiary support. Surfrider, DP Strands
Recently, the San Diego Superior Court again came to essentially the same conclusion, in City of Dana Point v. California Coastal Commission – only this time, with a more biting tone, and explicit finding of pretext. The Court noted that the City’s proffered testimony of a former police Sergeant “made for good theater” but was “not rooted in reality and there was no showing of anything more than a mere possibility of fear and future injury.” Surfrider, DP Strands pg 12
There was simply no evidence in the record supporting the City’s nuisance declaration, just conclusory statements, and bare numbers of calls for police service, many of which were not even in the vicinity of or related in any way to the restricted beach accessways, and for relatively minor offenses. Instead, the Court found that Dana Point disingenuously tried to enact a nuisance ordinance to avoid its Local Coastal Program obligations, and concluded that the City acted with pretext.
While cities do have authority to abate legitimate nuisances, this case sends a strong message that our justice system will not allow cities to abuse that power and declare non-existent nuisances in order to evade the law or curtail public rights, such as the right to access the public beach under the public trust doctrine and the California Constitution, Article X, Section 4.
The City has been fighting Surfrider Foundation and the Coastal Commission for over 5 years now, with taxpayer dollars. It’s time to stop, acknowledge there is no nuisance – and never has been – at the Strand, comply with the City’s Local Coastal Program and the Coastal Act, and provide the public with the beach access we deserve.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Engagement Editor Julie Gallego at email@example.com.