Nude Beach Unveils Political Dispute


No one typically blinks an eye in Rancho Palos Verdes when Mark Horn leaves his bathing suit in the bushes and trolls for aluminum cans on a secluded local beach.

For more than a dozen years, Horn and others have enjoyed the sun’s rays relatively free of any interference from cotton, nylon or city regulations.

But that may change after this week, when the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council is expected to receive a report from city staff and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies on what goes on, and comes off, at the internationally known nude beach--referred to as both Smuggler’s Cove and Sacred Beach--near Narcissa and Palos Verdes South drives.

“We’ve ignored this stuff for too long,” Councilman John C. McTaggart told the council last week.

The council asked for a report after Rancho Palos Verdes resident Kathy Snell, who lives near the beach, complained that her 15-year-old daughter was surprised to see a naked man “sunning himself” as the sun set.

“There was no sun for the guy to bask in,” said Snell, who is outspoken on a number of city issues.

Over the years, various city councils have discussed the issue and sometimes taken action, such as cutting nearby shrubs that were reportedly home to sexual encounters.

But the city probably would have to pass an ordinance prohibiting nude sunbathing if it wants to effectively shut the beach down, said Denis Petty, the deputy district attorney who oversees Rancho Palos Verdes. State and federal laws do not prohibit such activity, he said.

City Clerk Jo Purcell said Rancho Palos Verdes does not have an ordinance prohibiting nude sunbathing but McTaggart, an 11-year council veteran, said closing the beach should not be a problem.

McTaggart said he believes a Los Angeles County ordinance prohibiting nude sunbathing already applies to Rancho Palos Verdes and that the city only needs to enforce it more aggressively. But he added that whatever it takes, the council has the political will to close the beach since conservatives Marilyn Lyonand Lee Byrd were elected in November.

Sheriff’s Department Capt. Herb Pettus, who oversees Rancho Palos Verdes, did not say whether he has received more complaints about the beach lately. But he did say that more naked people are being sighted outside the beach’s traditional boundaries. “And people are offended by what they’re seeing,” Pettus said.

Pettus guessed that the Lomita substation fields “a couple” of complaints a month regarding the nude beach. Pettus said deputies do not regularly patrol the beach, but do respond to complaints.


The nude beach actually appears as two adjacent, horseshoe-shaped beaches, separated by a small point. On the eastern beach, what most agree is the “straight” or heterosexual side, nine men and three women were sunning themselves one recent afternoon. Most were naked. Half a dozen men, some of them naked, were on the western beach.

When asked why they frequent the beach, sunbathers on both beaches invariably reply “freedom” from clothing and society.

“It feels a lot more natural,” said a 32-year-old West Hollywood businessman who wished to remain anonymous because he worried about offending his clients, “and I’m always naked at home.”

Horn, the aluminum can collector, was wearing a white tank top, a neon baseball cap, a necklace with a jade figurine, and nothing else. He said he has been living in nearby bushes for three years, and first came to the nude beach in 1979.

Horn says beach attendance has increased since his first visit, and three months ago a city staffer asked him to help control those wandering from the beach’s traditional borders because the city had “suddenly” received a number of complaints.