Thursday, November 26, 2009

Article: State spent over $40,000 to fight nudists

State officials spent more than $42,000 battling a group of nudists who wanted to keep Trail 6 a clothing-optional beach, California Department of Parks and Recreation documents show.

Also, a public records request for all reports and complaints relating to public nudity at Trail 6 revealed only two written complaints.

A man who identified himself only as Gary enjoys the warm weather in the nude at San Onofre State Beach. Recent documents indicate that the California Department of Parks and Recreation has spent more than $40,000 in legal fees fighting the Naturists Action Committee over the issue. It was also revealed that there have only been two written complaints about the nudists at San Onofre State Beach.

Park officials had said a growing number of complaints were one of the factors for banning nudity at Trail 6.

The documents shed light on more than a year of legal wrangling between a group of nudists who want to keep a portion of San Onofre State Beach clothing-optional and park officials who issued a crackdown on nudity in June 2008.

The fight essentially came to a close when the California Supreme Court decided against hearing the nudist group's latest petition.

Allen Baylis, a Huntington Beach attorney who led the fight against the ban said state officials could have saved the legal costs and grief, if they had engaged the public rather than "mandating their point of view."

"They would have saved the state that money if they had simply decided to go ahead and work with us instead of forcing us into litigation," said Baylis, a director of the Naturist Action Committee.

Ken Kramer, district superintendent of the Orange Coast District, said the money spent was well worth it.

"Our approach to this issue transcends dollars and cents," Kramer said. "This is money well spent to make sure we address these concerns. We have the duty to make sure that with this type of increased popularity and visitation that we have a park where all visitors feel welcome and that there is lawful activity occurring."

Kramer said providing a safe and comfortable environment for park employees, an increasing amount of criminal activity in the area and a growing number of complaints were their impetus for enforcing a nudity ban at a 1,000-foot stretch of secluded beach abutting Camp Pendleton.

When asked as to how two complaints about public nudity jived with the claim of a growing number of complaints, Kramer said that the majority of complaints were verbal.

The agency, however, has not documented nor kept track of such verbal complaints, Kramer said.

He did not comment about why the agency did not keep track of verbal complaints.

"It couldn't have been too serious," Baylis said, questioning Kramer's reasoning. "If they took verbal complaints seriously, they would have documented them."

Kramer instead pointed to what he said was an increased level of criminal activity in the surrounding areas of Trail 6.

A document of about 150 criminal incidents for about the last 10 years includes citations and arrests on suspicion of lewd conduct, indecent exposure and sexual assault.

While Kramer stopped short of blaming the nudists, he did say there was a correlation between the two.

"I don't think we can ignore the fact that we have a substantial criminal activity problem where nude recreation is going on," he said.

Baylis, who leads Naturists in the OC, said the data is not reliable.

He points out that the data includes more than just the clothing-optional beach but also surrounding areas, such as the parking lot and areas on top of the bluffs.

In some instances, he said, incidents in the data are doubled and even quadrupled

"They inflated their numbers by the way they counted them," he said.

Baylis said the naturists have helped police the area, which had been one of the few "clothing optional" beaches for decades.

Regardless, Kramer said they are forced to enforce the nudity ban.

"We have to default to protect the interest of folks who abide by the law," he said. "At some point, I'm sure that folks will not comply voluntarily, and we'll be forced to take it to the next level. We'll have to cross that bridge when we get there."

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