Coastal California and The Dogs of War   2 comments

Coastal California and The Dogs of War
(A Commentary and an Update)

August 31, 2014

For most of the past ten years, my family has spent our vacation time in Hawaii, specifically on the Maui Coast. After years of travel to many destinations we’ve found that saving for an annual visit to Maui has been more than sufficient as a destination to recharge our batteries. For those who can’t or don’t go to Hawaii, I’m not writing to impress anyone or to elicit any sympathy or derision; rather I’m writing to draw a comparison to the beautiful coastline of Hawaii’s islands, and the beautiful coastline of California. It’s the latter coast where I spend most of my time, living in Mendocino County. Having driven almost every one of its 656 miles—from Dana Point to Leggett—there are few highways as beautiful as California’s Highway One, particularly when you get north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Earlier this year we visited friends in southern California, and were reminded of the beauty of California’s urban coast, that part of Highway One with homes and businesses vying with surfers and swimmers for the beauty and a bit of personal respite. There seems to be a constant battle between visitors to the beaches, and those California property owners who continue to block access to “their personal beaches”. Unlike Hawaii, which has defined and enforced access as a right of everyone in the islands, native and haole, resident and visitor alike, California has a desire to provide access but it apparently lacks the legal cojones. In Hawaii, the University of Hawaii’s SeaGrant program reminds us that the “public has a right of access along the beaches and shorelines in the State situated below the “upper reaches of the wash of the waves.” (Follow this link to the relevant legislation). In short, anyone/everyone on the six primary-destination islands—Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Hawaii—can get to the beach.

In California it continues to be more difficult to ensure public access, at least in a few places. Many of us have read about the battles in Malibu, with the über-wealthy attempting to seel-off debate and seal-off the beaches, water, and endless views. Beyond the good news in Hawaii is a California that still wants to be heaven and haven. Much of the beauty in California is heavenly; some of the crass haven-building by those attempting to insulate themselves from the great unwashed is insulting and a visible demonstration of the contempt the 1% has for everyone else. As a 2012 Los Angeles Times editorial put it, “A recent report by the California Coastal Commission showed that some progress has been made across the state in improving access to the 1,100-mile shoreline, whose wet sands and craggy tide pools are part of the birthright of all Californians and cannot be privately owned below the high tide line.”  I love the phrase ‘part of the birthright of all Californians’. Nevertheless, and note another phrase above—“some progress”. Only some.

Our local newspaper, the weekly Independent Coast Observer (and other papers including SFGate) carried an Associated Press story by Juliet Williams about (here’s a surprise) a dot-com billionaire blocking beach access to those not in his circle of friends, or without the requisite billions of dollars to buy their own piece of exclusive (and to hell with everyone else) coastal real estate. “The public had access to Martins Beach for decades through a private access road, but it was closed after Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla bought a 53-acre parcel next to the secluded cove in 2008 for $32.5 million.” I have nothing against the dot-com world (although people in Los Angeles and San Francisco may feel differently as neighborhoods gentrify and inevitably expel less-tony residents.) But the fight for access to Martins Beach is emblematic of the two Americas. Rebecca Solnit was featured in a December 2013 article in Bloomberg’s Business Week on just this topic. Solnit has waged her own Paul Revere-esque written ride as a 21st Century town crier alerting the masses to the impending “them and everyone else” transition our country seems hell-bent on allowing to happen. It was prompted by the appearance of the Google buses, those dot-com limousines whisking techies along the highways and byways of the Bay area to the comfortable cocoon of Google’s offices. God-forbid they should be forced to mingle with the rest of society. Brad Wieners wrote in Business Week that  “. . . Rebecca Solnit was also among the first to cast the Google bus as a symbol of disparity and discontent in the San Francisco Bay Area. Writing a year ago, she described the big, luxury coaches that ferry employees from San Francisco and Oakland south to Google (GOOG) headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., as ‘gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.’”

Like those of us who’ve had a personal experience meeting a Glasshole—that marvelous and entirely appropriate euphemism for almost anyone wearing Google’s high-tech glasses in public—we continue to receive a daily dose of our changing America. Much like India’s long reviled caste system, we are being slowly but inexorably moved into America’s new lower/lowest caste. We are becoming members of this country’s “unwashed” economy. Ever-decreasing income, wiped out by ever-increasing costs-of-living. And if it’s not bad enough to work hard to keep from falling behind, we’re now also told to “keep off the beach”.

Recalling the famous headline from 1975, if the New York Daily News were writing the beach closing story today for its front page, I have no doubt the headline would read: Khosla to Californians: Drop Dead. Returning to the article that motivated me to write, it’s clear that another overlord has landed. History, precedent, and good manners have no weight here. It’s up to the California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown to return Martins Beach and all California beaches to all of the citizens of California.


This is to the reader who asked me about a quote from the film The Dogs of War. The film’s hero and New York City resident Jamie Shannon has a guide take him through the jungle of the fictional African country of Zangaro. His guide babbled on in a local dialect, apparently berating Shannon and embracing the absolute power of Zangaro’s leader to do whatever he wishes. After a brief moment’s thought, Shannon informs the guide that “In my jungle, you’d be just another asshole.”


Author’s note: The above essays are completely unrelated.

© David Steffen 2014


Posted August 31, 2014 by Jazzdavid in Education, Government, History, Technology, Uncategorized

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2 responses to “Coastal California and The Dogs of War

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  1. Hey David, How are you ?? Tried a few times to send you a message and not sure you’re getting them. Let me know if you are and if you are e mail me back !! Hope all is well and hope to talk soon. Best, Neal

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Pingback: Beach Access Proponents: 1. Selfish Billionaires: 0 | Jazzdavid

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