New Beach Permitting System in the City of Pacifica Allows Non-Profit Groups to Access Linda Mar Beach for the First Time in 18 years
Sacramento, CA – May 12, 2023 – On May 11th, the California Coastal Commission unanimously voted to approve the passage of the City of Pacifica’s Coastal Development Permit (CDP), fully authorizing a reformed surf school permitting program at Linda Mar Beach.
For nearly two decades, the City of Pacifica operated a surf camp permitting program which granted access only to the same four for-profit surf companies, in perpetuity. Without a mechanism for the inclusion of additional groups, including non-profits who provide access for community members who have historically-faced barriers to coastal access, this system had proven to be discriminatory, exclusionary, and illegal.
To learn more about the landscape of surf permits in Pacifica and our collaborative work up until now, please visit the Advocacy page of our website.
In April 2022, this system was found to be in violation of requirements set by the Coastal Act, California’s landmark 1976 coastal protection law, and therefore suspended. According to Coastal Commission staff, previous attempts at revision of the system, including those submitted by the Pacifica State Beach Task Force in 2021, “while well- intentioned… largely mimic its previous program,” and “actually create[d] additional obstacles and barriers for non-profit groups attempting to access the coast at Pacifica State Beach, representing a barrier to equitable access, and raising Coastal Act public access and environmental justice concerns.”
May 11th’s historic vote now allows for the City of Pacifica to resume management of surf camp operations at Linda Mar Beach, under specific conditions that guarantee a new, more equitable system. This new system will include:
- Equal number of participant spots between for-profit surf camp operators and non-profit organizations
- Equal access to times, dates, and location of operation at the beach for for-profit surf camp operators and non-profit organizations
- Reduced registration fees for non-profit groups
- Simplified registration procedures
- Expanded area of use, thus increasing the amount of potential participants of all group types
- Collective agreement to adhere to community surf agreements to ensure all groups feel welcome and safe at the beach. Each registered group will have to abide by the community surfing agreement in order run programs at Pacifica State Beach
- An annual review of the process to allow for changes to be made to adapt to any issues that may arise
Troy Bohanon, Surf Instructor of City Surf Project views the passage of the CDP as essential for communities today and in the future. He states: “…the youth are tomorrow, our leaders of tomorrow, and they should be allowed to be at the beach just as much as anyone else, regardless of their monetary backgrounds, their personal racial backgrounds, and there’s nothing like breaking-down barriers in a line-up, and sharing waves with people that don’t look like you, or may not be from the same neighborhoods or zip codes as you. I personally believe that surfing is for everyone, and the beaches should be for everyone as well.” Organizations that create these safe spaces for youth to show up as themselves are essential in bridging the nature gap for many historically excluded communities.
Kevin Woodhouse, City Manager for the City of Pacifica, stated: “Development of this program began in 2020 by a collaborative group of stakeholders including city staff, the city’s Parks, Beaches, and Recreation Commission, non-profit surf camp providers, commercial surf camp providers in Pacifica, and others. A task force of these stakeholders worked tirelessly on this program to benefit all and balance critical safety, access, and operational factors. It should be celebrated by all involved in its development and upcoming implementation.”
Attitudes of the Commissioners were supportive and multiple Commissioners commented that this is not the first time they’ve heard of this “locals only” issue, and suggested staff work on model guidelines that could inform practices statewide. Sonia Diaz, Public Policy Manager for Outdoor Outreach, stated, “…in San Diego there exists a patchwork of permit processes across different land managers that create a system that favors commercial for-profit entities over nonprofits like ours. For example, some of the permits have blackout dates on certain days of the week, especially on summer weekends (while for-profit schools don’t face those barriers). We often have to seek out less desirable places that are less restrictive. This really impacts the quality of our programs and the ability to bring more of our youth to enjoy the benefits of our coast.”
The work being done in Pacifica is setting a precedent for the rest of California where many nonprofits and community organizations have faced similar permitting exclusion. Commissioner Effie Turnball-Sanders questioned if there is an opportunity in the future to do an environmental justice forum or convening to collect the stories and bring greater attention to these statewide inequalities.
The motion to approve Pacifica’s CDP with the reformed surf school permitting system came from Commissioner and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Justin Cummings, and was seconded by Commissioner and Mayor of Imperial Beach, Paloma Aguirre. While the motion to approve the CDP puts the City of Pacifica on the right track, there is still room for growth. Commissioner Turnball-Sanders stated, “My concern is that if there is a Coastal Act violation, particularly as it relates to public access, I’m not sure this goes far enough.” Suggestions for continued repair included free-parking passes for non-profits and lower cost or no cost permit applications. These additions to a CDP have the potential to be applied throughout California to increase access for the several other organizations facing similar barriers.
After passage of the CDP, Adrianna Guerrero-Nardone, Executive Director of Brown Girl Surf remarked, “this is a historical moment for our organization and our community, and is something we’ve been waiting for a very long time. The decision is validating and affirming that we belong, that we’ve always belonged.”
We hope, and anticipate, that the California Coastal Commission will further discuss the statewide impact of this decision. Whether it be with official guidance for local land managers, a California convening for beach equity, or beyond, we hope that the work for Pacifica State Beach equity sets the tone for the beach access and equity shifts to come.
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