Sunday, February 10, 2013

Debunking de beach debate

I wish I could.  Debunk it, that is.  But the fact is, I have no real "feel" for the bottom line on the beach debate.  And the longer I ponder it, the more my head hurts. 

Let me re-cap briefly my unsophisticated understanding and analysis, and then proceed with the mental fruits of the walk I took yesterday evening.

Back in July 2011, I published a post called "West end wackiness" which crudely summarizes the state of the mess surrounding the challenges to the Texas Open Beaches Act. 

Things apparently haven't gotten much clearer in the intervening period of time.  There was a subsequent judgment in March of 2012 affirming that the "beach" had indeed become private property (if I'm understanding it correctly), but I'm not entirely sure that anyone really understands what that means on a practical level at this point.  The mainstream news media hasn't been all that helpful because they've tended to view the issue through the lens of whether or not "the public" is allowed onto "the beach".  But apparently it's not that simple. 
Pic from that original July 2011 blog post.  The whole thing started because of legal debate over the line of natural vegetation and what happens following abnormally-intense erosive events, such as hurricanes.  Like Ike, for instance.   
Here's a similar view taken yesterday - a bit farther up the coast but you can still see the same water tower as a point of reference.  The amount of vegetation gained during this intervening period of time is impressive, at least to my un-trained eye.  But what exactly does this mean for private property claims?  I'm not sure. 
I'm still perplexed as to why this beach is allowed to be treated as a right-of-way.  There's so much vehicle traffic that they've basically carved a superhighway through the vegetation that reportedly means everything in the eyes of the law. 
And yet signs like this are present, apparently of a post-Ike vintage (judging from their shiny and new appearance).  But of course, if that property being torn up by vehicles is actually private property, I'm betting that there would be little grounds for enforcement.  Not from a municipal authority, at least. 

But if it's private property, one would think that it has a very high monetary value, because it's beach frontage.  So you'd think that the private property owners would be motivated to preserve that value.  So why do they collectively appear to be allowing people to drive vehicles all over it and tear it up??

In sooth, I got the feeling yesterday that I really was in a type of existential Twilight Zone.  I can't fathom any of these things.  Like, what is it?  Whose is it?  What rules apply?  Yesterday, it felt like I was in No-Man's Land. 
As I was trolling for the latest updates on this issue, I found this FAQ produced by the Texas General Land Office.  According to that source, the "wet beach" (the portion below the high tide line) can still be lawfully accessed by the public, regardless of any recent legal judgments. 
That being the case, at least we've preserved the rights of future generations of Texas children to be able to collect shells...
...and see all the fascinating evidence of life in the littoral zone, even if they have to wait until low tide to do it

But if we extrapolate that thought, that statement regarding dry-beach access restrictions, out to its full extent, the picture it paints is very bizarre.   What would families do if we were all held to this wet-beach-only access restriction?  Would people line their cars up on FM 3005 and sit patiently waiting for the tide to recede before they could get out and legally trek to a narrow ribbon of damp sand?  It would be the beach-analog of being relegated to the steerage section of the Titanic, a scenario that strikes me as a particularly ugly form of classism
And if I'm understanding things correctly, the thought experiment gets even weirder from that point.   Because, wouldn't private property owners themselves be held to exactly the same restriction?  Sure - the microscopic subset of beachfront owners would be able to claim exclusive rights to their own fifty-foot chunk of dry beach - but apparently by this new set of rules, they would not be allowed to walk on anybody else's fifty-foot chunk of dry beach because, after all, it's private property. 

So if they themselves wanted to take a proverbial walk on the beach, technically, wouldn't they have to exit their beach-front houses, trek across their own miniscule section of dry beach, and enter the wet beach with all the rest of the steerage class people? 

But realistically, would they even be able to do that much?  Because if a bunch of steerage-class Texans saw a property owner emerging to walk on that very same paltry strip of wet sand to which they themselves had been relegated, I'm guessing that the resulting social situation would not be very comfortable for the beachfront owner.  The word "lynching" comes to mind. 

So OK - perhaps in light of that little existential hurdle, perhaps all the beachfront owners could band together and mutually agree that they could reciprocally walk on each others' dry-beach private property.  Even if we set the resulting insurance ramifications aside for the sake of argument (but it's debatable as to whether those issues could ever be discharged), how would the rightful beach-walkers be able to distinguish each other from steerage trespassers?  The average west-ender might be familiar with a few of their neighbors, but most of these west-end houses are only occupied part of the time.  Furthermore, they tend to be occupied by extended families, friends of those families, and/or weekend renters, so we're talking about an impossibly-large pool of people to potentially identify.  They'd have to wear wrist bands or forehead tattoos or something, wouldn't they?  Which would also be problematic, because that would further heighten the ability of the steerage beach-goers to visually identify them as potential targets of wrath. 

And even with all that, who would enforce the segregation?  Certainly not the taxpayers.  So theoretically, would the dry beach property owners perhaps have to band together to hire private security or something, to enforce private propery access? 

But even if they did that, what if an owner or an entitled visitor forgot to get his forehead tattooed on the way to Galveston?  What if the tattoo machine was temporarily broken?  Or what if a dry-beach owner had their wrist band accidentally torn off as they were frolicking in the surf?    What then?  Would they even manage to make it back to their own beach-front houses?  Or would they be apprehended by their own security team?  Would difficulties such as this maybe prompt them to start microchipping themselves instead, like dogs?  Because microchips can't wash off in the surf. 

But then they'd have to pay for microchip readers to be installed at the high tide line.  Microchip readers that the steerage class beach-goers would then be inclined to vandalize. 

And on, and on...
Am I missing something here?  Has anybody really thought this whole wet/dry scenario through to its logical end-points??  That's the question that was foremost in my mind yesterday, as my beloved dog and I walked for over an hour on a deserted narrow soggy strip of Every-Man's Land, the strip that exists at the bleeding edge of No-Man's Land. 
We don't yet have transparency on the bottom lines. For the time being, we'll have to settle for transparency in this delicate feather.  

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