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Defending Property Rights—It’s No Day at the Beach

Thirty years ago, George and Sharlee McNamee purchased a beachfront house in California, hoping to create a home in which to spend their retirement. Over the years, the McNamee’s made various improvements to their beach property, installing picnic tables for entertaining and a shade to allow Mr. McNamee protection from a repeated bout with deadly melanoma. Throughout this time, the McNamee’s have generously allowed the public visiting the state-owned portions of the beach to use the facilities on their property.

But the California Coastal Commission claims these are illegal developments. According to the LA Times, the Coastal Commission is charged with enforcing the 1976 Coastal Act, which decrees “private and public shorefront property are subject to state regulation to protect the environment and ensure public beach access.” Notwithstanding that the McNamee’s gardens prevent erosion and their facilities enhance the public’s access to the beach, the Coastal Commission has embroiled the retired coupled in a decade-long battle that has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The state claims that the McNamee’s development “gives the perception of a private beach—intimidating beachgoers into avoiding the public sand nearby.” The fact of the matter is that the McNamee’s are giving the public a perception of reality: the couple’s property is a private beach. The uninvited public who use the couple’s property do so only out of the McNamee’s generosity and goodwill—and the public benefits from it, to boot. But whether the Coastal Commission believes that their use of their property is illegal is irrelevant. As Mrs. McNamee succinctly puts it, “We think you should be able to dispose of your property as you see fit, as long as you’re not harming anyone else.” The Commission disagrees.

The state of California is making it clear that in its view, property owners do not have a right to use their property as they see fit. The McNamee’s have invested the financial fruits of their life’s labor into building a spot on the beach for their retirement. But according to the state of California, the McNamee’s are only permitted to enjoy their property if they remove the improvements they’ve made that allow them do so—including the shade canopy built to protect Mr. McNamee from cancer. As Ayn Rand explained, “since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.”

The rejection of property rights is the rejection of the right to life, and in the McNamee’s case, this is quite palpably an issue of life or death. Well into their 70s, the couple is losing the will to fight the Coastal Commission, which Mrs. McNamee rightfully claims “is depriving us of a portion of our lives.” Should the Commission succeed in depriving the couple of the rest of it?

Readers who wish to voice their support of the McNamee’s efforts to resist government pressure to capitulate can write to the California Coastal Commission. (Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the Commission fails to provide an email address at its website, so feedback has to be sent via phone calls or snail mail.) Interested parties may also contact the Undercurrent; all comments and/or contact information will be forwarded to the McNamee’s.

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