The current nude beach scene is more active than it has been in three decades -- and impending changes have its members all roiled up: increased law enforcement at San Francisco's North Baker Beach and the North Bay's Muir Beach; the closure of most state beaches; a court ruling that could force some beach-goers to suit up; and a possible push to officially designate several Marin beaches as "clothing-optional."
What's spurring most of the latest developments? Increased visitation over the last year, for one, said Yvette Ruan, chief park ranger of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), who administers more than a dozen properties used by nudists.
As the economy has soured, people have been swapping longer, more expensive trips for stops at beaches. And more people on the sand means more auto break-ins, more cops, and, in some cases, more angry homeowners.
At North Baker Beach, visitors have noticed a jump this year in warnings for rude or illegal behavior being given by park police and rangers. "I've never seen it like this before," says San Francisco TV installer Paul Jung, one of the site's regular volleyball players. So far, however, the enforcement mostly has been limited to leading rowdies off the sand. GGNRA public affairs chief Rich Weidemean said that only one citation for sexual activity was issued there this year, and only three or four in the corridor from North Baker Beach to Golden Gate Bridge Beach.
There are also big changes happening at Little Beach, a nude area known to most readers as Muir Beach. At the cove, where only one citation for improper sexual conduct has been issued in the last year through June, deputies and rangers are starting to make periodic patrols -- in contrast to the past, when they reacted only to calls, Also, warning signs are expected to be posted this summer in reaction to complaints.
Ironically, Marin County Sup. Steve Kinsey calls the summer-long increase in law enforcement visibility a "short term" test to determine if serious problems really are occurring at Muir. "I want to monitor the situation," he said. If the cops find that things are actually pretty quiet on the sand, it might lead Kinsey to starting an effort to designate Muir and several other beaches, such as the north end of Bolinas, as clothing-optional.
In September 1975, the county enacted an ordinance giving it the power to exempt areas from anti-nudity laws, which make nudity a misdemeanor offense. But Marin has never used the exemption power. "It's not something I want to do this year, but I wouldn't have any hesitancy about bringing it forward," Kinsey said. Asked if the other supervisors would back him, he responded, "I think everyone would go along with it."
Residents who have complained want the opposite to happen. If law enforcement fails to reduce what a homeowner who refused to be identified told the Guardian is an outbreak of "lewd, disrespectful, exhibitionist, and intimidating behavior," then complainants may seek to ban nudity at Muir Beach. "It has been tolerated, but it is illegal," says the homeowner. "It's not one or two or 10 or even 30 complainers. It's a huge portion of the community. We're done tolerating the intolerable."
About 50 people, including Kinsey, Ruan, Marin Sheriff's Lt. Cheryl Fisher, and Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian, attended a community meeting June 16 to discuss complaints that ranged from public masturbation to urination. Muir Beach resident Laura Pandapas complained after a neighbor and her 3-year-old daughter saw a nude sunbather masturbating on the beach, according to the Marin Independent Journal. "This is a neighborhood beach, surrounded by homes, families, and children, and used by clothed families, not just naked people," adds the anonymous homeowner. If they "want to freak freely and be seen ... they should go to Red Rock."
According to Kinsey, "some spot surveillance or reconnaissance" by deputies to check for problems will take place on "some of the more active (hot weather) days" this summer at Little Beach, which is run by the county, while they and rangers at the adjoining federally-owned public portion of Muir Beach, react to complaints. GGNRA's Ruan already has ordered her rangers to "drive by more and, as time allows, get out of their vehicles and walk (along the sand) and talk to people." But unless it's an emergency or they're asked by the county, law enforcement won't be able to do much on Little Beach, which is outside their jurisdiction. But even that could change by January, when Ruan expects the state and federal government to okay a new enforcement-sharing agreement.
Meanwhile, on June 29, the 4th District Court of Appeals rebuffed sunbathing in the buff by ruling that a policy instructing rangers to ignore nudity on state beaches where nudity has been traditionally practiced is invalid because it was adopted without public feedback. The strategy, known as the "Cahill policy," was issued by then-state parks Director Russell Cahill in 1979. The Naturist Action Committee will probably appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, according to attorney Allen Baylis, who represents the naturists.
It isn't known yet whether the ruling applies just to Southern California's San Onofre State Beach, around which the case revolved, or if it could lead to a ban on nudity at other state beaches such as Devil's Slide near Pacifica. The outcome is "a bit unpredictable," says Bay Area Naturists (BAN) leader Rich Pasco, who points out that, according to prior court decisions, California Administrative Code CCR 4322, which restricts nudity in state parks to designated areas, "includes areas 'designated' by traditional use."
Also up in the air: how 220 state parks and beaches -- including clothing-optional properties at Devil's Slide, Mount Diablo's Hidden Pond, Monterey's Indian Head Beach, and even popular Red Rock (which is administered by Mount Tamalpais) -- may be affected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's threat to close them. A June 8 letter from National Park Service regional director Jonathan Jarvis to Schwarzenegger warned that the federal government could take possession of six former federal land sites, including the Ford Ord Dunes and Mount Diablo (Mount Tam has received federal funding in the past), if they are closed.
No matter what happens, though, there's still time for some fun at clothing-optional areas this year. Want to get involved on a community level? Consider "adopting" Bonny Doon Beach on September 19 when supporters gather to clean up trash. (For directions, see the beach's listing in Santa Cruz County.) You could also make history by helping set a world skinny-dipping record. The Guinness Book of World Records has agreed to create a new category for the most people simultaneously skinny-dipping, so the American Association of Nude Recreation is organizing an event at nude locations and AANR clubs throughout North America. Participation: free. Dress code: nothing. All you have to do is be present at the Sequoians Clothes-Free Club in Castro Valley July 11 at exactly noon, when an official count by notaries and three "witnesses" will occur.
Speaking of good things, would you like to help improve our report? Please send ideas, beach discoveries, better directions (especially road milepost numbers), and trip reports to firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail to Gary Hanauer, c/o San Francisco Guardian, 135 Mississippi St., San Francisco CA 94107. Be sure to include your phone number so we can fact-check.
About the ratings: We give an A to spots that are large or well-established and where the crowd is mostly nude; B to places where less than half the visitors are nude; C to small or emerging nude areas; and D to areas we suggest you avoid.
Banner photo: Cort, Makay, Jan, and Shayne frolic on North Baker Beach. Photo by Spencer Hansen
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