Since 1979, California nudists enjoyed a "live and let live" attitude from that state's Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). That year DPR Director Russell Cahill decided that California's anti-nudity law will not be enforced in the state's "unofficial" clothing-optional beaches. Instead, the law will only be enforced if private citizens complained. As a result of the "Cahill Policy," nude sunbathers have since been left largely undisturbed.
This policy of benign neglect ended in May of 2008 when DPR Director Ruth Coleman, arguing that changes in the local population made a nude beach undesirable, began to enforce the anti-nudity law in Trail 6, the clothing-optional section of San Onofre State Beach in Orange County. The Naturist Action Committee (NAC) and Friends of San Onofre Beach sued to protect Trail Six's status, and the Orange County Superior Court agreed, ruling that Coleman acted illegally by not submitting her order to a state administrative agency or seeking public comment.
Unfortunately for naturists, their victory was brief. On June 25 the appeals court overturned the lower court ruling, noting that while Coleman did not follow proper procedure, Cahill did not do so either, which made his Policy invalid. Though the ruling only applied to Trail 6, it has since been extended to cover all of California's state beaches: "These are public beaches for all people and we think there should be a common code of appropriateness," announced DPR spokesperson Roy Stearns. According to Stearns, officials will soon begin to enforce the ban but will use discretion as to whether to give a warning, issue a citation or do nothing. The new policy only applies to California state beaches and not to private properties or federal park land.
Naturists were outraged. Paul D. Cain, Mr. CMEN (California Men Enjoying Naturism), calls it "a ludicrous, absurd ruling." "California has ended up painting itself into a corner, and is now unwilling to back down in the face of precedent and logic," says activist Seth Paronick. Some naturists, who agree with the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) policy of negotiation instead of litigation, blame NAC for suing in the first place, but NAC Executive Director Bob Morton defended the lawsuit: "[NAC] could accept the loss of San Onofre, it could negotiate, or it could fight. When the Parks Department refused to negotiate, NAC chose to fight." On July 23, NAC appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court, defending the validity of the Cahill Policy: "People have been relying on it for 30 years," said NAC attorney Edna Kopacz. Though "it's a long shot" that the high court will hear the case, Kopacz believes that this "is an issue that needs to be addressed."
On September 3, DPR announced that it will begin to issue citations for nudity in Trail 6 on September 8. This provoked a response from NAC, which called the move "improper and illegal. The Naturist Action Committee and Friends of San Onofre Beach have petitioned the California Supreme Court to consider their lawsuit against DPR. Until the Supreme Court indicates whether it will hear the matter, the ruling of the Superior Court stands." Though park rangers did not issue their citations on Sept. 8th, NAC scheduled a rally at Trail 6 for Sept. 13 to protest the impending crackdown. At a time when the Golden State has a severe budget crisis, cracking down on nude sunbathers is a ridiculous waste of time and money.
(This article previously appeared in the Sept. issue of The Guide (www.guidemag.com). Jesse Monteagudo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.