Locals residents and state officials battle over access to public California beach

California public beach access battle

For years, access to a quarter-mile stretch of surf and sand near Santa Cruz nicknamed Privates Beach meant paying a $100 annual fee to enter through a locked gate. But the state's powerful Coastal Commission says that's too restrictive for a public beach.

Mark Massara, an attorney and surfer, represents the Opal Cliffs Recreation District which has been charging an annual fee since at least 1963. He says the money goes back into the beach.

"All of the money raised is dedicated exclusively to the maintenance and improvements of this park," Massara said. "The best comparative example I can give you is an annual state parks pass. That's over $200."

Ingelise Rowe, who lives nearby, says the key is worth it.

"I think it's important to have a family-friendly place to go that's well-kept and maintained," Rowe said.

But under California law the entire California coast up to the mean high tide line must be open to the public.

"The beach belongs to everybody," Pat Veesart, an enforcement supervisor for the California Coastal Commission, says. "The burden of that fee falls disproportionately on the people who can least afford to pay it."

During the summer, the Recreation District has agreed to let everyone onto the beach for free. But that's not enough for the Coastal Commission. It wants to end the fee for good and lower the barrier from nine feet to six.

The Coastal Commission is drawing a line in the sand at this beach because it's not the only one in the state that is challenging public access.

Near San Francisco, a Silicon Valley billionaire wants to lock the only road to Martins Beach, which runs through his property. There's also been outrage over a controversial deal between the Coastal Commission and wealthy homeowners at Hollister Ranch Beach near Santa Barbara, which is only accessible by sea.