Surfers Win Round One In Legal Battle for California Coastal Access
How is a public beach not public? When there is no way to legally get to it.
California law purports to open all beaches to the public, and California law protects historic or customary easements for access to beaches. But not in all cases. Five California surfers became a test case by crossing private property to to reach Martins Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County.
On Thursday, the surfers won the first round. On the recommendation of county prosecutors, a California court dismissed criminal trespassing charges against the surfers. Although San Mateo County prosecutors dropped the criminal charges, a civil court case is still pending to resolve the dispute between the surfers and the private property owner.
Access to the beach along a private road had been allowed by a prior property owner, but when the $37.5 million property changed hands in 2008, to the frustration of surfers and beach-goers, the historic access was closed by the new owner.
The surfers’ cause has been supported by the Surfrider Foundation, which praised the prosecutor’s decision to drop charges. Surfrider legal director Angela Howe was quoted in the Monterrey Herald saying “This marks a major victory for Surfrider Foundation in our mission to secure universal beach and wave access for all people. The county’s action to dismiss the case today demonstrates that these brave surfers were acting under their rights as Californians to lawfully access the beach.”
While criminal prosecution is no longer on the table, the access issue still remains unresolved as a civil matter. A court has yet to rule whether the property owner has the right to exclude the public from the beach access road. So while surfers are not likely to face arrest, access to the public beach is still not necessarily permitted. Stay tuned for round two.