December 13, 2010

Property rights are a grace from government?

By Property rights are a grace from government?

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Last week, California Coastal Commission Chair Bonnie Neely published an oped in the Los Angeles Times defending the Commission's rejection of nighttime beach closures.  Ms. Neely was writing in response to a Times editorial that castigated the Commission for placing public beach access above all other concerns, such as public safety.  As the Times piece explained:

The California Coastal Act guaranteed public access to the coastline, ensuring that state residents would share equally in their most famous, and perhaps most treasured, resource. Even without a house on the sand, we all have the right to catch a wave or a view of the sunset.

It's wonderfully democratic, but is it entirely practical? What happens on the coast after sunset can be worrisome. Late at night, the beach can be a magnet for crime. For gang skirmishes, or kids drinking and smoking weed. For uncontrolled bonfires, dangerous swimming and homeless people camping overnight.

Ms. Neely, however, dismisses these sensible and reasonable criticisms as pretexts for politically motivated pandering:

Unfortunately, we often find that public access restrictions imposed by local government are motivated by political pressure from residents annoyed by the presence of outsiders. In those cases the commission stands firmly for protecting public access rights. Safeguarding public coastal access, after all, was a primary reason the Coastal Commission was created.

Frankly, there may be truth to both sides on this point.  But what I found most interesting, and most objectionable, about what Ms. Neely wrote was this additional justification for the Commission's rejection of nighttime beach closures:

People fortunate enough to reside on or near a beach should realize they are privileged to live adjacent to public space and must accommodate the impacts associated with public use.

In other words, property owners within the coastal zone should be happy with the rights that the government deigns to give them, and should not complain when the government takes back what it gave.  Anyone familiar with the Commission should not be surprised by this attitude of bureaucratic arrogance.

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