Above: A panel of experts, advocates and officials discuss barriers to coastal access for diverse Californians at a news briefing in Los Angeles on Jan. 26. (From L to R: San Gabriel Valley Water Dist. President Thomas Wong, CAUSE Ex. Dir. Maricela Morales, Guang-yu Wang of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, Coastal Conservancy Deputy Exec. Officer Amy Hutzel, Ca. Coastal Commission Vice Chair Effie Turnbull Sanders, and Jon Christensen, adjunct professor with UCLA's Inst. of the Env. and Sustainability. Photo: Charles Ding, World Journal)
LOS ANGELES -- In the wake of a new report that found that the costs of travel, parking and overnight accommodations discourage many from going to California’s ocean fronts, a panel of leading coastline stakeholders called on state residents to help turn the tide against policies and practices that block beach access and limit public interest in coastal preservation.
Under the state’s 1976 Coastal Act, “maximum access” to the coast must “be provided for all the people.” However, the new report, produced by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and San Francisco State University, said there is “overwhelming concern among Californians about access to the coast.”
The report, “Access for All: A New Generation’s Challenges on the California Coast,” was the focus of a January 26 New America Media news briefing that also explored issues related to coastal stewardship and global warming. The report – based on a survey of 1,146 people at 11 beaches in Ventura, Orange and Los Angeles counties – said 62 percent of the respondents cited access as a “problem.”
Specifically, 78 percent said the availability and cost of parking is a problem and 68 percent cited limited public transportation options as a barrier to the coast. Also, 75 percent – a large proportion of Latino respondents among them – said the lack of affordable overnight accommodations is an obstacle. In addition, the report found that African Americans are less likely to visit the coast and that 33 percent of that population make such visits less than once per year.
Lead UCLA investigator Jon Christiansen told forum attendees that “research shows that we are at a tipping point where deciding to visit the coast is a close call for most Californians – given the costs … We have to do something about that.”
The study calls for policies that would: boost the development of more low-cost overnight accommodations; expand public transportation options and provide more affordable parking. The report also recommends support for “groups that are changing the culture of access to the coast.”
Coastal access groups that represent low-income residents and communities of color can help underserved populations get more involved in global warming issues such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification if policymakers adopt measures that make it easier to visit coasts, said Guang-yu Wang, deputy director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.
“What will make a difference – and protect the ocean – is getting people to use the resource,” he said. “By having more people participate, it will help mobilize forces we need to get legislation to preserve the coast.”
The California State Coastal Conservancy, an agency that helps protect ocean and bay resources, also sees a connection between beach access and public support for action to address sea-level rise, said Amy Hutzel, the organization’s deputy executive officer. She said her agency is seeking applications for grants for outreach programs that bring “people of color, children and people with disabilities” to coastal areas.
“Most people believe the coast should be accessible to everyone but there are socio-economic factors,” she said. “Also, some beach areas not kept up as much as others. For example, places such as Malibu are cleaner than some other coastal areas.”
Those disparities were the focus of comments by Maricela Morales, executive director of Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy. For example, she said the Oxnard coast in Ventura County is the site of a former metal recycling plant that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is trying to decontaminate. The Oxnard coast also has three power plants, generating facilities that serve Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, she said. In addition, said Morales, there is a proposal to build a fourth power plant in Oxnard, which has a Latino majority.
Campaigns to resist the creation of pollution-creating technology near coastlines would be more diverse if more people of color lived there, she said, calling on policymakers to take steps to create affordable housing along the coasts.
“Can we end environmental racism?” said Morales. “If people of color are good enough to clean a beach and are willing to fight for this country, they are good enough to live on the coast…Housing affordability along the coast is an issue we need to address.”
Californians also need to remember that Native Americans, the original stewards of the region, maintained a “pristine coastline,” said Angela Mooney D’Arcy, a forum audience member who serves as executive director of the Santa Monica-based Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples. She said policymakers should consult Native Americans on coastal issues.
The state’s lead coastline regulator, the California Coastal Commission, needs the input and help of all communities, said Effie Turnbull Sanders, the commission’s vice chair. She noted that African Americans were barred from most California beaches in the 1920s.
“I’m hopeful we will coalesce on issues of access and justice because the coast belongs to all of us,” she said. “We have to think about those historically excluded, we have to consider the rights of native people.”
Coastal access is also an issue at the intersection of opportunity and public health because low-income residents dealing with obesity or mental stress need more access to recreational, natural spaces, Sanders said.
“If we can frame this as a civil rights issue, we will see more people get involved,” she said.
See related: Poll: Majority of Californians Value the Coast, Even as They Move Farther From It