A rally at Carpinteria's Bates Beach this Saturday and Sunday openly challenged the necessity of America's most popular beach accessory: the bathing suit. The suggested replacement for this item? A smile.
Planned by the Santa Barbara-based Nude Beach Alliance, the gathering of nudists served as both a friendly get-together for food and beach games and an opportunity to show off to area residents and government officials just how many people wanting part of the beach designated for nude use. To avoid police involvement, participants did have to wear a bit more than just a smile - that is, the nudists were not nude - but they didn't let that get in the way of their beach day or their public statement. With signs held upright by the sand, and pamphlets ready to offer any curious passersby, rally participants were ready to spend the day relaxing at the beach while still raising awareness.
The Nude Beach Alliance, along with other organizations, wants to bring back the clothing-optional section of Bates Beach, specifically a quarter-mile stretch of shoreline that prior to the year 2000 had been used as a clothing-optional beach for about 40 years. Over time, members of various groups have developed strategies and suggestions to encourage the return of nude beaches as well as solutions to the problems that led to regulations against them. Currently, only Gaviota and More Mesa beaches offer sections in which people can frolic nude without the threat of citations.
In spite of the complaints registered against the clothing-optional beach that contributed to the increase in enforcement of restrictions on nudity, advocacy groups insist that the positive effects of a nude section of Bates Beach will outweigh the complaints. Supporters have taken a closer look at the financial influences of clothing-optional beaches, especially focusing on tourist dollars. According to Allen Baylis, a director for the Naturist Action Committee, nude beaches can stimulate the economies of the areas that surround them, as evidenced by other communities that have opted to create clothing-optional stretches. The Summer 2009 issue of The Magazine of Naturist Living featured one such beach: Miami-Dade's Haulover Beach. In 1991, members of South Florida Free Beaches began to use a small nude sunbathing section of the beach at Haulover Beach Park. Today, this area is the destination for hundreds of naturists, from which about 50% are tourists. In 2002, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman wrote, "Haulover Park's naturist family beach has been good for tourism because of it's positive effect on the hospitality and tourist industry." The parking revenue at Haulover increased 445% from 1991 to 2004 an enormous increase, especially in comparison to that of the county's other oceanfront park, which saw only a 51% increase. The Nude Beach Alliance does not oppose parking fees, and calls attention to the possibility that an available clothing-optional section at Bates Beach would have the potential to generate a large additional profit by charging for parking, considering it would be the only nude beach in the area. Not only do the participants in this campaign believe that they could improve the area economically, they believe that they will improve the beach environment as a whole. The Nude Beach alliance makes efforts to keep the environment healthy and does beach cleanups. "We feel responsibility for the beach we do use," explained Dan Cruz, a member of the Southern California Naturist Association.
In addition to the concerns about nude beaches voiced by residents of beachside homes, other issues arose that led to the discontinuation of the clothing-optional feature of Bates Beach. Concerns of lewd behavior and the rights of those who come across the nude beach accidentally contributed to the eventual regulations put into place with the Santa Barbara County Nudity Ordinance of 1977, which prohibits "nudity in public places, places open to the public, and places open to public view whether such places are publicly or privately owned, even when such nudity is not sexually motivated or otherwise lewd", declaring it a "public nuisance and unlawful." The supporters of a clothing-optional beach have taken these concerns into consideration, and have developed solutions. They intend to establish a Beach Ambassador/Neighborhood Watch program - a group of volunteers present to monitor nude beach behavior and preserve respectful decorum. "If you came to us and said someone was sitting too close or making you uncomfortable, we might come and sit right between you," explained Nude Beach Alliance Board Member Sonya Robinson, "and maybe put our umbrella down so it blocks them," she chuckled.
The various naturist organizations expressed their willingness to share the beach with everyone, clothed or not - all they ask for is mutual respect. Members of naturist groups present at the rally all agreed that signs are a crucial part of maintaining an acceptable clothing-optional beach. Signs advise beach visitors that they are entering a section of the beach where there is nudity; this precaution will prevent uncomfortable situations and disgruntled beach-goers who may be taken by surprise. "We would like to have a small portion of the beach," explained Robinson. "We want to avoid infringing on other areas."
The fight for clothing-optional beaches is statewide, and numerous organizations, societies, and clubs are participating in the campaign. The Nude Beach Alliance started an online petition last year, which accumulated over 2,000 signatures of people who support a clothing-optional section of Bates Beach immediately North of the Ventura-Santa Barbara county line. Representatives from the Nude Beach Alliance, which is a subsidiary of the Southern California Naturist Association, recently met with a staff member of county supervisor Salud Carbajal to discuss the beach parameters they are aiming to adjust. Members of the alliance are hoping that Carbajal will discuss the issue with the Board of Supervisors and agree to a two-year moratorium on citations for nudity alone. This would provide an opportunity for some observation of the clothing-optional beach section's effect on crime rates, public views, and economic conditions.
In the past, Bates Beach was a place where the naturist community hosted gatherings and joined together for events and holidays. According to rally attendees, problems started after nudists were "chased away." Nude beach supporters claim that when clothing became mandatory and nudist gatherings at Bates Beach ceased, the unpopulated coast area became more susceptible to illegal acts, and crime rates increased. They believe that the return of a clothing-optional beach section will improve the safety of Bates Beach and the area surrounding it, based on the theory that if people occupy the area more frequently, there will be slimmer chances for an undetected car break-in, and fewer opportunities for sexual assaults. Expected, according to the nudists, is an overall increase in visitors to the currently less-than-crowded beach, an adjustment that they say could also decrease some of the suspicious activity known to accompany deserted public areas.
After all of their other problems have been settled, nudists come to the final issue under debate: individual opinions about nudity. It is true that people have the right to feel offended or uncomfortable, but how much weight should their opposition hold? Should percentages of those in favor versus those opposed be taken into consideration? These questions are subject to extensive debate, and have certainly sparked the interest of nudists. "You know, people argue that 'Beaches are for all people to enjoy'," said Baylis. "Last time I checked, we were part of all people."