Brace yourself for some shocking news: Californians value their coast.
A Field Poll coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the California Coastal Act Thursday found that voters place a premium on pristine oceans and beaches, with a resounding 90 percent saying the condition of those spaces matters to them. Across all income levels, majorities of voters said the state of oceans and beaches was “very important.”
Beach visits are a regular feature of life for Californians, with 77 percent saying they went at least once a year and a quarter saying they go at least once a month. But they face some obstacles: more than three-quarters of voters called a lack of affordable parking a problem, and well over half cited a lack of public transit links (68 percent) or limited public access (62 percent).
“The main takeaway is the extraordinary consensus of Californians across all groups about the importance of the coast,” said Jon Christensen of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, on whose behalf the poll was conducted, but “there is growing concern about public access...those concerns are going to be paramount. Making sure all Californians have access to our beaches is really central to our identity.”
Stewardship of the coast and the public’s ability to enjoy beaches regularly attract heated political fights. A budget item carried by former Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, in 2014 empowered the California Coastal Commission to fine landowners who obstruct public access.
Last year, the surprise ouster of commission head Charles Lester – a move environmentalists and some lawmakers decried as a power play by developers frustrated with the slow pace of building – infuriated citizens who packed commission meetings to voice their opposition. It led to bills that sought to have people influencing the Coastal Commission register as lobbyists and limit private communications with commissioners.