Coastal Access Equity and the Implementation of the California Coastal Act

  • December 2016
  • 36 Stan.Envtl.L.J. 89
  • Article

The California Coastal Act, passed in 1976, protects public coastal access for all Californians. In the forty years since the Act’s passage, the state’s population has nearly doubled with much of that growth occurring in the coastal zone, where the beaches and public trust shoreline are an important natural, open space resource. As such, they are beneficial to individual and community well-being. Inequities in access to nature (and other beneficial resources) are increasingly common. In this study, we evaluate and map the proximity of different demographic groups to public shoreline access points on California’s coast. In so doing, we identify disparities in the availability of coastal access opportunities to different groups and show that, in general, wealthy, white, senior residents of California live closer to coastal access than other groups, while populous minority groups are significantly underrepresented in terms of their proximity to coastal access points. We discuss these findings in light of environmental change (e.g., sea level rise) and responses to such changes (e.g., shoreline armoring), combined with social factors (e.g., continued population growth) and policy responses to such changes (e.g., climate adaptation planning). Our analyses set the stage for further place-based study of disparities in public coastal access, including their impacts on specific populations, as well as mechanisms intrinsic to the Coastal Act for increasing coastal access equity in California through the Act’s next forty years.

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