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Preserving public access.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Many Oregonians take this state's pristine public beaches - and the remarkable access they have to them - for granted.

A recent story in the Washington Post should remind Oregonians to take a moment to appreciate the absence of intrusive development on most of this state's beaches. Here in Oregon, the public's right to walk, run, play - and, on those rarest of days, sun - on the beaches is protected.

The Post story documented recent efforts to create a continuous hiking trail along the arc of the California Coast from the Oregon border to Mexico - nearly 1,200 miles of sand, rocks and bluffs.

Support for the trail is building. Last fall, Gov. Gray Davis called for the path's official designation, while the state Assembly earmarked $10 million for land acquisition and mapping. But it appears increasingly likely that the task of connecting all the dots along the Golden State's coast will prove impossible.

Obstacles include major coastal military installations, such as Camp Pendleton and Vandenberg Air Force Base, where public access is barred and military exercises are regularly conducted. There are also numerous industrial facilities, including nuclear and coal-fired power plants and mega-ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles and other coastal cities.

But the most formidable hindrances to a coastal trail are wealthy, powerful property owners. The California Coast is dotted with gated communities where "No Trespassing!" signs warn the public that beaches are off limits. Although state law declares California beaches public up the the mean high tide line, buildings, roadways and expensive homes crowd the beaches right up to the surf line in many areas.

It's estimated that such impediments now occupy a full one-fourth of the beaches from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Mexican border. One Sierra Club official likens the miles of public-access-blocking seawalls to the "Great Wall of China.

For several decades, the California Coastal Commission has required some beach-front property owners to grant state easements allowing public access, but only a fraction of them have been enforced and few have been marked. In areas such as Malibu, wealthy beach-front property owners, including powerful political figures and celebrities, are fighting the easements through lobbying and litigation.

Contrast California's situation with that of Oregon, where the Pacific shoreline is virtually one long, endlessly accessible trail. Credit goes to a series of enlightened measures, including legislation passed under Gov. Oswald West in 1913, the "Beach Bill" passed by the state Legislature in 1967 and statewide planning goals adopted in 1976.

It would be a mistake to assume that Oregon's beaches are protected for future generations. As recently as 1989, a property owner in Cannon Beach attempted to build a seawall from his coastal property, with the intent of building a motel on the beach. The case went all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, where opponents, including 1000 Friends of Oregon, the League of Women Voters and the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, successfully defended the principle that no one should be allowed to deprive the public of its right to enjoy Oregon's beaches.

The frustrations of Californians seeking to establish a coastal trail should make Oregonians appreciate their extraordinary access to their state's beaches. It should also remind them that no protection is absolute. Oregonians must remain vigilant in order to protect their beaches and citizens' access to them in the decades ahead.
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Title Annotation:California's plight a reminder for Oregonians; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 2, 2002
Previous Article:Letters in the Editor's Mailbag.
Next Article:A human rights test.

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