By Cruz Bustamante
POSTED: 02/05/16, 2:00 PM PST | Press-Telegram Opinion
Just days before I was elected speaker of the California Assembly, I took my children to the coast to see its beaches, sundown and all its splendor. We talked about the coast and I promised them that I would do all that I could to keep it as pristine as I could for them and their children to enjoy.
Representing the Central Valley, I understand firsthand the importance of public beaches to inland and rural populations, underserved communities and people of color. When it hits the mid-90s and above during our summer months, families load up the station wagon and head to the coast.
Many areas in the Valley, Inland Empire, Northern California, as well as many inner city communities, don’t have direct access to parks and open spaces, and have always relied on our state’s greatest public asset — our magnificent coast.
While it’s easy to take public beach access for granted, we shouldn’t. Even in 2016, coastal and beach access is routinely and illegally denied to the working class and communities of color simply seeking to enjoy nature.
One state agency, the California Coastal Commission, has been charged for 40 years with the goal of both protecting the coast and providing the widest possible public access for all state residents and visitors.
As speaker of the Assembly in the mid-1990s, I had the responsibility of appointing four members to the Coastal Commission and am proud to say that my appointees helped create a pro-environmental legacy for our state. The decisions we make about our natural resources, like the decisions we make about public education and social justice, reflect who we are as Californians and the future we want to leave for our children.
In just the past few years, under the leadership of Executive Director Charles Lester, the Coastal Commission has doubled down on public access issues, working hard to open up unlawfully closed access to the coast and defending the rights of the public to enjoy the beach. It has played a part in groundbreaking discussions meant to increase public access for all our residents, not just those who can afford to live near our greatest public asset.
In reading the media accounts about the management issues mentioned as grounds for the possible termination of Lester, I find that a key voice is [not being heard]. Environmental justice advocates should be greatly concerned about losing important gains to public coastal access under Lester’s leadership. Our state’s diversity leadership, whose community’s residents have the most to lose, must champion the continuance of the collaborative work to ensure all Californians enjoy our beaches.
Under Lester’s leadership, environmental and social justice, civil rights, education and public health advocates have found a willing and committed partner in the Coastal Commission to work in behalf of the public interest. It is essential to retain the independence of the California Coastal Commission and to provide Lester and the commission staff the authority to deal with the pressing issues facing our coast.
The coast belongs to all Californians — first generation to multi-generation. Inland to coastal. A strong Coastal Commission ensures all Californians’ the right to the simple, but all important, pleasure of a day at the beach with their families or friends.
Cruz Bustamante is the former California lieutenant governor.
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“We’ve made tremendous progress under Dr. Lester,” said lawyer Robert Garcia of the City Project, which has fought for beach access in Malibu and other areas where private property owners have used guards, bogus signs and parking restrictions to keep citizens off public beaches. “The beach belongs to everybody. Not just the rich and famous and the mainstream enviros.” Steve Lopez, L.A. Times.
Keeping California’s Beaches Open for All NRPA Robert García.