California Policy Manager, Surfrider Foundation

The Inertia

Even as appropriately dire warnings about the pending disappearance of SoCal’s beaches make the news, the southern Monterey coast continues to erode at a rate faster than any other place in California. It’s no secret why. CEMEX, a multinational building materials company headquartered in Mexico has been scooping the sand away for decades at its Lapis Sand Plant. How much sand? Annually, about 270,000 cubic yards – the equivalent of 14 million 50 lb. bags.

In fact, way back in 2006, the U.S. Geological Survey noting that region’s beaches were disappearing faster than any others in California attributed it directly to “the artificially high erosion in the southern portion of the Monterey Bay caused by long-term sand mining operations.”

Let’s pause to consider this. A private company is literally sucking up a public beach for profit. Perhaps we should all take chainsaws into our redwood parks and start harvesting ourselves some trees, which we could then wholesale to Home Depot (CEMEX’s “Lapis Lustre” – the name they give Monterey’s pretty sand – runs you just over $4 for a 50 lb. bag).

Sounds lucrative, right? Low overhead, high profit? There’s no doubt that utilizing a public resource for corporate gain serves CEMEX well. Despite last year’s notice that the California Coastal Commission intends to shut down their operation, the company has likely continued to increase its taking of California’s coast, according Ed Thornton, a professor emeritus at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. In a KION news story, Thornton noted that over the years, CEMEX “has doubled, if not tripled, their mining yield without notifying the Coastal Commission.” 

CEMEX dredge. Photo: Kathy Biala

Along with a coalition of dedicated activists, Surfrider Foundation’s Monterey Chapter and Santa Cruz-based Save Our Shores have been fighting against this egregious theft for years. Efforts to date include documenting the mining and supporting the Coastal Commission’s actions, maintaining a spotlight on the operations and a new campaign in conjunction with The Last Coastal Sand Mine. 

Additionally, Surfrider, Save Our Shores, the Monterey City Council and others continue to press California’s State Lands Commission (SLC) to join its sister agency in protecting the public trust – evidence exists that at least some of the sand CEMEX is taking comes from below the mean high tide line, which would give the SLC jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, even as negotiations with the Coastal Commission continue, CEMEX defends its sand theft. In a San Francisco Chronicle story, CEMEX spokesperson Walker Robinson said, “The Lapis plant continues to operate within Cemex’s legal entitlements as it has for decades.” The Chronicle also ran an editorial this month calling for an end to the “California Sand Rush.”

“Particularly with seas rising, the resulting erosion puts coastal residents in greater danger and disturbs rich wildlife habitat on the edge of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary,” it reads. “It’s time for the Coastal Commission and Cemex to bring California’s sand rush to a belated conclusion.”

The Surfrider Foundation wholeheartedly agrees. For those in the Santa Cruz-Monterey area, you can see a screening of the new documentary The Last Coastal Sand Mine. For others further from the action but no less passionate about stopping the theft of California’s most treasured public resource, you can email the State Lands Commission and join/follow the campaign with Surfrider’s Monterey chapter.

Editor’s Note:The Last Coastal Sand Mine screens Thursday, March 30 in Santa Cruz. You can help by sending emails to State Lands Commissioners Betty Yee (B.T.Yee@sco.ca.gov), Gavin Newsom (gavin.newsom@ltg.ca.gov), and Michael Cohen (michael.cohen@dof.ca.gov).




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