For more than 20 years, More Mesa Beach has been considered a nude-friendly stretch of shoreline. Sheriff’s deputies have kept their distance — turning a blind eye to the swath of skin despite the county’s ordinance prohibiting public nudity anywhere — and nudists have typically stayed within their reserved area. But according to Dennis Smith — the spokesperson for a group of 50 or so naturists who call themselves Friends of Gaviota (FoG), and who fight for peoples’ rights to go bare in unofficially designated areas — that may be changing.
This week, Smith recounted an incident that occurred late last month when a group of nudists allegedly witnessed a “fully clothed homeless-looking man” masturbating on the beach, eventually calling the cops on him. But officers — after failing to locate the homeless man, who purportedly ran off — then reportedly issued tickets to the nudists, which would have been the first doled out in the area in more than a decade. The episode was reminiscent of an occasion on Bates Beach when a homeless man purportedly parked himself near a nude beach-goer, who was then issued a fine soon after.
The unprecedented citations, claimed Smith, may be symptomatic of a larger agenda to crack down on naturist activities. Distrustful of Sheriff Bill Brown — and hinting at what may be a sting tactic to track down naked folks — Smith said he’s keeping an eye on what he feels is a worrisome trend. “The nudist groups in Santa Barbara County had good relationship with the previous sheriff,” he said over the phone. “We’re worried about a policy change.” However, Sheriff’s spokesperson Drew Sugars said that there hasn’t been any kind of shift, and deputies will only take action if they get a call. He also couldn’t find a record of the More Mesa citation. Taking down nude beaches, said Sugars, isn’t exactly a priority for the department, especially in light of recent cutbacks.
Smith, though, is encouraged about how the State Parks department is responding — or isn’t responding — to nude activities on state beaches. During a sit-down with recently appointed Santa Barbara sector supervisor Dan Falat, FoG members said they learned that authorities — on state beaches like Vista Del Mar and San Onofre North — will continue to adhere to the Cahill Policy, a piece of documentation dictating that troopers should only take action against the unclothed if a complaint is logged. State Park officials countered that while the Cahill Policy was shot down in court last year, the Santa Barbara department has no intention of bolstering any enforcement efforts.