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July 2, 2013
Editorial: An app for a key question: Where's the beach, dude?

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(July 2 -- By the Editorial Board)

With triple-digit temperatures, California's 1,100-mile coast and scenic beaches beckon. Eighty percent of Californians live within an hour of the coast, Sacramentans within two hours.

The California Constitution and state laws guarantee that we have a right to walk on the wet beach anyplace along the coast. The tidelands are a "democratic commons," open to all.

Unfortunately, in some places you sometimes come up on phony, illegal "private beach," "no trespassing," or "no stopping" signs and security guards that dot exclusive areas on the coast - such as Malibu in the south and Seadrift in the north.

Yet under the state constitution, all tidelands are public: "No individual, partnership or corporation" that owns frontage or tidal lands "shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water ... ."

The people of California guaranteed public access to beaches with Proposition 20, the Coastal Initiative of 1972. And legislators affirmed that with the California Coastal Act of 1976.

Now Southern California has a fabulous tool to make public access easier.

Environmental writer Jenny Price worked with Escape Apps to create a smartphone app called "Our Malibu Beaches" to help people navigate beaches - from hidden gates and paths to how to deal with illegal signs and intimidating security guards - all fact-checked by a California Coastal Commission manager.

We need a similar app for Northern California.

Much of the shoreline from the Golden Gate to Point Reyes National Seashore is accessible through public parks. But the small communities of Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Inverness, Tomales and Dillon Beach have private lands dotting the shore. Public beach access is available, but difficult to find.

A smartphone app would help.

Take Stinson Beach along Highway 1. The southern end is parkland and has a parking lot. But on hot summer days it sometimes reaches capacity, making other access points important.

At the north end is the gated Seadrift subdivision, with 125 lots facing the ocean. The public may use the beach below the high-tide mark, as everywhere along the coast. Public access is through the Jose Patio cul-de-sac off Calle Del Arroyo, which has an easement dedicated to the public, or from Walla Vista, where the county owns the lot at the end.

But how would anyone know?

With a smartphone app, Northern Californians could find an uncrowded beach on a hot day without carrying the 300-page "California Coastal Access Guide." Any takers?

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