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Coastal Living

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Capistrano Bay Community Services (CBD)

Established 1959

Coastal Living

A Symbiotic Co-Existence

Unfortunately, this symbiotic, and at times uneasy co-existence, has spawned a misunderstanding of the nexus of beach public access and private property rights.

California Coastal Act of 1976 was enacted to among other things, to declare the California coastal zone is” a valuable and distinct natural resource of enduring and vital interest to the people . .” and to promote “public safety, health, and welfare”, and “to protect public and private property‚Ķ

” Further its states that, “. . .recreational opportunities shall be provided for all the people consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights. . .” and “rights of private property owners . . .”


Beach Public Access

In General

In general, all California beaches and its shorelines are considered public up to the point where they meet existing private property lines in areas of private development. Beachgoers have the privilege of enjoying any legal activity on any California beach given proper access all the while respecting private property rights.

The question then begs to be asked, “Where is the point where the public beach ends and how much area is available for public use?”

Private Property Rights

Unfortunately, the issue of lateral public access has spawned occasional disputes as a result of the ambulatory nature of the MHTL, especially when the granted lateral public access encroaches onto private property.

Under narrow beach conditions this granted access may be of very little practical public use when the 25 foot extension encroaches onto patios, hardscape, landscaping or other developed private areas.

While beachgoers are allowed any legal activity within that zone, the more realistic public use on narrow beaches (and the most respectful to private property owners) is the ability to pass and repass from a wider public area to another.

Beachgoers are reminded that this granted lateral public access should never be construed as giving access to physical private property (i.e., patios, beach furniture, other private items, etc.)

As a matter of respect to the private property owners who have invested a great deal for the privilege of living on California’s sandy shores, beachgoers should always respect privacy and all physical property.

As stated earlier, the coast is for the enjoyment of everyone. Whether you take pleasure on its sandy beaches or choose to live there, it is definitely a treasure worth sharing while being mindful of everyone’s rights.

Mean High Tide Line

Under state law, all lands seaward of the mean high tide line (MHTL) are owned by the state and held in trust for public use. The California Coastal Commission (“the Commission”), the agency that regulates coastal access and preservation states that “public lands are those that lie seaward of the MHTL”, establishing a legal right to use the beach seaward of the MHTL.

The MHTL is defined as the line formed at the intersection of the plane of high water at mean high tide with the surface of the land. This plane, or elevation, is determined by calculating the average height of all twice-daily high tides occurring over a 19-year span for a given location as recorded by the National Ocean Survey. Thus, the actual plane, or elevation, is constant.

The actual shoreline or beach profile however, is not constant and given wave action, especially on sandy beaches, the actual boundary between public land and private property may migrate inland or out to sea depending on erosion or accretion (sand build up).

Lateral Public Access

To accommodate beachgoers who might otherwise only be able to access wet sand in areas of private development, the Commission, as a condition to more recent coastal development permits (CDP) for private property owners, imposes a lateral public access at least 25 feet inland of the MHTL, granting a public right to use the beach inland of the MHTL over that distance.

lt should be noted that properties pre-dating the Commission, or this particular requirement, may not necessarily have this same imposition placed on those properties.

With over 1100 miles of coastline, California offers a great deal of recreational opportunities to millions of its citizens and visitors. The natural beauty of its coastline and its beaches conjures up images of sunbathers, families enjoying a day at the beach, children building sand castles or otherwise frolicking near or in the ocean water, body surfers and boogie boarders bobbing to and fro along the water’s edge, joggers and walkers enjoying the serenity of the breaking waters, all to the backdrop of gulls, pelicans, surfers, sailboats and kayaks off in the distance.

It goes without saying that the coast is for the enjoyment of everyone. Yet, over the years and before the state’s population was anywhere near what it is today, the same sheer beauty of the coastline that appealed to beachgoers also attracted private development, more specifically, private residences, that has become home to many whose lives are now permanently ensconced in coastal living.

CBD Manager (949) 496- 6576
CBD Security (949) 496- 1611

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