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Gym, Tanning, and Coastal Access

Josh Stephens on
Sep 4, 2011

Normandy Beach, NJ -- We have a situation at the Jersey Shore. I don't mean Jersey Shore and I don't mean The Situation. 

I'm referring to the actual Jersey Shore. Here, along the state's 110-mile coastline a sense of imprisonment overpowers the hedonism. It's the same in many other East Coast states. 

JerseyIt's in this incongruous setting that I've been writing an upcoming CP&DR article on the future of the Coastal Commission and the retirement of its controversial executive director Peter Douglas. Douglas is known for his aggressive, expansive interpretation of the Coastal Act. Anecdotes abound about commission decisions that force land owners to abandon development plans or create easements in exchange for the right to make the most measly improvements. 

Whether he's actually pulling the strings or not, Douglas makes some people's blood boil. But, here it's the absence a Peter Douglas that makes me sick to my stomach. 

I went this morning to take a swim in the Atlantic. Before I went, my host stopped me and handed me a little badge, about the size of a sand dollar, with a number and a safety pin. I needed it to get on the beach. Without it, a high school girl with a yellow t-shirt reading "BADGE CHECK" would have stopped me at the edge of the dunes. Like D-Day, but backwards.

I told my host here in Normandy Beach that we don't stand for that sort of thing in California. Needing permission to put my toes in the sand or get barreled by a breaking wave has never occurred to me in all my life. Beach access is a cultural value that we all share, whether we're conscious of it or not. But try going to a place where it is not an inalienable right, and--unless you're David Geffen or Barbara Stresiand--you'll discover your state fealty in a heartbeat. NorCal, Southern California, Central Coast: it doesn't matter. This coast is our coast. 

I could be petty and say that Jersey's strictures don't even matter since it's not like they're keeping Big Sur off-limits. But a coastline is a coastline. Subliminally, access to the coast is what prevents a state from being a prison. If all else fails in this world--and so much has failed already--we can always put a paddle in the water and set out for the high seas. Landlocked folks can cross their state boarders and come to our shores. Ultimate freedom does not reside in Oklahoma or Kansas or Short Hills or in what you can do on your piddling piece of real estate. It's in the view from the end of the Santa Monica Pier, or the Marin Headlands, or the Cliff House. 

The Jersey Shore offer no such views. Wealthy folks with summer homes buy their beach passes. The weekenders and partiers cluster in towns where booze flows freely and hoi polloi are allowed to touch the sand. Thank goodness The Situation has someplace to show off those pecs. 

Say whatever else you want about the Coastal Commission and its ailing leader: at least we can show off our pecs anyplace we please. 

Photo courtesy of MTV.