Bud Emerson | Klish Way
Indulging ourselves on our wide sandy beach this wonderful summer, it is instructive to know that Del Mar history tells us that much of this beach was not available to the public back in the '50s all the way through the '70s.
Looking back we see most beach front property owners laying claim to wide swaths of beach in front of their homes. One owner even pushed his claim out at least 40 feet from his property line. How could this possibly have happened?
One justification was protection of houses from high tides and narrowing beaches. Owners feared their homes were in jeopardy from intense winter storms producing vigorous high wave action. Many protective devices were considered by the city, but on the advice of shore processes experts at Scripps Institute of Oceanography the preferred solution was to build engineered rock revetments covered by sand in front of homes. Some owners rushed to dump unengineered rock piles in front of their homes without permits, some got permits from the city. It seemed to work but many owners moved furniture and fences on to these berms and declared them “private property”, unavailable for public use.
Another justification was that a wide “walkway” in front of their homes had been dedicated to the “Civic Association” by the original developers of Del Mar. Many beach front owners declared this walkway as part of their private property even though it was beyond their legal lot lines.
For years public beach advocates pressured successive City Councils to open these beach spaces for public use. Wealthy beach front owners responded with threats of lawsuits, led by Robert Strauss a prominent national attorney and political leader. These threats intimidated City Council members worried about the city’s financial health.
How was it resolved? BOZO! In the early 80’s a group of public beach advocates, Joe Lang, Marshal Ross, Bill Ross, and Bud Emerson devised a strategy to mount an Initiative to go on the ballot for the public to weigh in. Knowing that the initiative would be challenged in court, we reached out to a top environmental and municipal law expert, Dwight Worden to draft initiative language that would be defensible. We asked him to use legal private property lines as the boundary. Dwight proposed a Beach Protection Initiative (BPI), literally a line in the sand as the language of the initiative. This would declare all beach west of their property lines would now be protected for public use.
To get the initiative on the ballot we had to gather enough voter signatures to qualify. It took us less than two weeks to get the required signatures to the City Council. They had no choice but to put it on the ballot. It became the central issue in the campaign and to our immense satisfaction it provided a unifying rallying call for the community, resulting in a resounding 86% yes vote.
As required by the vote, the Council then enacted the initiative as an official ordinance, the Beach Overlay Zone Ordinance--BOZO was born!
Yes, there were legal challenges. Dwight Worden, acting as special Counsel defended all successfully. Today BOZO is the controlling ordinance for public beach access in Del Mar.
In Part 2 Dwight Worden will explain in more detail how complex this problem was and how it was resolved.