Bates Beach Is Nude Again (With Conditions) Thanks To Longterm Efforts of SCNA & Friends of Bates Beach
Guest Blog by: Gary Mussell (Director, Friends of Bates Beach)
North Rincon Beach (locally known as Bates Beach, named after the beach’s access from Bates Rd.) is at the southern tip of Santa Barbara County, just north of Rincon Point.
The beach was once a safe, family-friendly environment that attracted several hundred people on summer weekends. On the convenient eastern end, people in bathing suits came to exercise their dogs and watch the world-class surfers practice their skills. The more remote western end served many people who enjoyed a clothing-optional beach experience. These traditional uses of the beach served the public well for over 40 years.
Beach tourists ate at local restaurants, stayed in local hotels, and brought in estimated half-million dollars into the local Carpinteria economy. A cooperative attitude worked well for the local community and allowed law enforcement officials to focus on significant incidents.
In 1977, in response to complaints of inappropriate behavior at several other nearby nude beaches, the county passed an ordinance banning public nudity throughout Santa Barbara. The law was used to close most of the beaches to nude use, except Bates, which continued on with few problems for another 20 years.
In 2000, a few neighbors at Rincon Point, about a mile away, who objected to nudism on general principles, pressed the local sheriff to chase away the nudists from Bates. It only took a few weekends of handing out tickets to everyone who wasn’t wearing a bathing suit to cause all the nudists to abandon the beach. The eviction provided an opening for drug dealers and others who took advantage of the now empty stretch of sand for their illegal activities. Gang graffiti started to appear on the bluffs and drug busts there became common.
In 2005, many of the nudists came to us at SCNA asking for our help to get the beach back. We had never heard of any beach in America that once lost, had ever returned to nude status, but we agreed to try. We formed a separate division of SCNA, called Friends of Bates Beach, which focused on the cause.
The fight took 12 years. We joined the local Chamber of Commerce, walked the business district, distributed brochures, flyers, buttons and bumper stickers. We also hit upon the idea of always paying for things in town using $2 bills so the locals would see the purchasing power of the local nudist community. We have participated in the Carpinteria Independence Day parade with a decorated truck for the past few years, with much applause and approved from the spectators along the parade route. We sponsored Chamber of Commerce business mixers at the picnic area above the beach so we could explain to the local merchants how good a nude beach would be for their restaurants and businesses.
To overcome the objection of the beach attracting pervs and other unwanted gawkers, we formed a Beach Ambassador program, similar to what is used at Haulover Beach in Florida. It works like a Neighborhood Watch program, and its volunteers are trained to shoo away those at the beach who are there for the wrong reasons or who are taking unauthorized photos.
We gave money and campaigned for local politicians willing to listen to us until finally we got a majority of the city council of Carpinteria, adjacent to the beach, and the County Board of Supervisors to agree that we deserved the beach. But they refused to vote on a change of the county law, so instead we negotiated for how the law was to be enforced.
We are now happy to announce that as of May 2017 both the County Parks Department and the County Sheriff has agreed not to come down to the beach to ticket anyone unless there is a complaint (by someone other than the deputy). This is the same status as Black’s Beach in San Diego and other nude beaches around the country. The “No Nudity” sign at the top of the ramp to the beach remains, but we have our own official-looking sign “Entering Clothing-Optional Area” that marks the start of our approved area, starting about 1200 feet to the west.
The goal since May has been to acclimate the beachgoers to our nudity, and to show we are harmless people who want to be left alone to our own enjoyment of the sand and surf so that nobody will call the sheriff to complain.
Starting in June we held large beach picnics there for all the local nudists. Over 50 people came down each time, and nobody complained. We understand some nudists have been returning to the beach on their own during the week and receiving no complaints, so it looks like the agreement is working.
On September 16, Friends of Bates Beach will be coordinating the annual National Beach Cleanup Day at Bates and in the surrounding area. We expect several dozen volunteers from all over the county to come down to help pick up trash and perhaps get our group photo into the local newspaper as happened last year. It is important to keep the PR going, even after the beach is won!
We ask that anyone coming down to the beach be sure to lay their blanket down at the far western end, about 100 yards (minimum) beyond the rusty red pipe sticking out of the cliff. In the 90’s the pipe used to be the demarcation of the nudist area, but population growth in the past decade has caused us to move ourselves further west. We ask that people not flaunt their nudity by displaying themselves in front of others who are walking past, especially if there are children. After about 3pm each day, as many people start leaving the beach, one can be a little more open. Just remember the goal is to have no complaints, so don’t do anything that might give someone the excuse.
This is the first year the beach is back, and we want to earn our way back so that in a few years Friends of Bates Beach can go back to the County Supervisors and demand the law finally be amended. We need everyone’s cooperation to make that goal happen. The police retain the right to ticket upon complaint of inappropriate or lewd behavior, so it is up to us and our Beach Ambassadors to make sure beach behavior guidelines are followed. Remember, our nude beach is not a legal right, it is only a privilege granted to us. Don’t abuse it!
Over the years we received financial support from SCNA and AANR-Western Region, legal advice from the Naturist Action Committee, sage advice from Shirley and Richard Mason at Haulover Beach, Florida, and the support of dozens of local nudist volunteers who never lost faith we would eventually win.
I wrote this blog article not only to announce that the beach is back, with conditions, but also to demonstrate how long it took and the steps we had to take to get where we are. Marching with picket signs, as they did in the 60’s, won’t do it. Letting someone else do the work while you wait on the sidelines will guarantee failure. If you want a nude beach in today’s world, you have to stop texting, put down the cell phone, and do the hard community work that may take years until you get an answer. Are you up for it?