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    California's 1976 Coastal Act, guarantees that “maximum access” to the coast must “be provided for all the people.” | Photo: Creative Commons

Published 1 February 2017

African Americans were banned from most Californian beaches until the 1920s.

A new report has criticized the management of Californian beaches, arguing access to the waterfront is largely restricted to white, wealthy people.

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According to the report, published by the University of California’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and San Francisco State University, over 60 percent of people believe access to the coast and beaches is a “problem.”

In the study, titled “Access for All: A New Generation’s Challenges on the California Coast,” nearly 80 percent blamed the availability and cost of parking and 68 percent said limited public transport hindered access.

While California’s 1976 Coastal Act, guarantees that “maximum access” to the coast must “be provided for all the people,” the report found African Americans and Latino people continue to be marginalized.    

According to the study, which based its findings on surveys with 1,146 people at 11 beaches in Ventura, Orange and Los Angeles, 33 percent of African Americans visit the beach less than once a year.

For Latino households, lack of affordable accommodation was one of the major obstacles. When visiting the coast, just over half of those surveyed stayed in a hotel, motel or short-term rental, with the remaining opting for less expensive options.

In the Latino-dominated Central Valley, 39 percent of those surveyed visited the beach less than once a year.

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A panel of coastline stakeholders held in Los Angeles on Jan 26 called on policymakers to address the inequality with improved public transport and accommodation options.

“Can we end environmental racism?” said Maricela Morales, executive director of Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.

“If people of color are good enough to clean a beach and are willing to fight for this country, they are good enough to live on the coast.”

Effie Turnbull Sanders, vice chair of the California Coastal Commission reminded the panel that Black people were barred from most Californian beaches until the 1920s.

Sanders argued low-income residents dealing with obesity or mental stress have a greater need for recreational, natural spaces.

“If we can frame this as a civil rights issue, we will see more people get involved,” she said.

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