You love the beach, right? Of course you do! Well, so does the rest of California. According to a recent statewide survey, nine out of ten Californians say the coast is important to them personally. Even more, three out of four respondents say they visit the beach at least once a year, with many coming much more frequently. But even though a large share of Californians live in coastal metropolitan areas, few of them have easy access to the 1,011 public beaches and parks within California’s coastal zone. In “Access for All,” researchers Jon Christensen and Philip King offer some much-needed advice on how to increase equitable access to our beaches.
First thing first, a little history. In 1976, the state legislature adopted the California Coastal Act agreeing that the coast “is a distinct and valuable natural resource belonging to all the people.” Pushing things further, it stated that protecting our beaches is a “paramount concern to present and future residents of the state and nation.” Sure the beaches are crowded. But the California Constitution asserts that it’s our duty to provide “maximum access” for all people. Pretty democratic of us right? Well, as per usual, this has been easier said than done. Despite decades of efforts by the California Coastal Commission, the State Coastal Conservancy, and many local partners the report’s findings aren’t so sunny. Here’s are the stats:
– 62% of voters think access to the coast is a problem.
– 78% are frustrated by the lack of affordable parking.
– 68% don’t have access to beach-bound public transportation.
– And 75% cited a lack of affordable overnight accommodations, the majority of which were latino and families with children.
No matter how you look at it, it seems California has some serious beach barriers. So what are we doing about it? For one, transportation needs to change, and some cities are acting. Santa Monica Beach saw a surge of riders when the Metro Expo line opened in summer 2016. Get those folks to the surf! Non-profits like Oakland’s Brown Girl Surf and San Diego’s Outdoor Outreach offer young people from diverse communities a rare chance to get outdoors.
The study’s strength is in that it truly means access for ALL. While nearly all of us value our beaches, we don’t necessarily enjoy them in the same ways. Families with children travel as groups, while most young people go to the beach alone. Certain beaches are more diverse than others. Equitable beaches are ones that can accommodate a diversity of people and a diversity of activities. In light of this, “Access for All,” asks us to acknowledge disparities in beach access and challenges us to do something about it. Of course, we could continue to hide these gems for our own enjoyment. Price out inlanders by jacking up parking costs. Vote down transportation development. And while no one is asking you to divulge secret spots you’ve been sworn protect, “Access for All” asks us to act on our better inclinations of citizenship and share the natural wealth a little. Technically, it belongs to all of us.
Christensen and King remind us that the “California coast and beaches are among our state’s most important democratic spaces.” In divisive times, it seems more important than ever to develop our sense of statehood, our sense of equitable identity. And to remember that according to “our state constitution and the California Coastal Act, our beaches belong to all of us. We need to make sure they are accessible to everyone.”