The naked truth
Imagine Russell Cahill sitting back some 30 years ago and pondering what to do, in that relaxed era, about naked people on the beach. The then-director of the state parks department had suggested creating “clothing optional” zones in more remote coves, but even the 1970s weren’t relaxed enough for that. So Cahill, surely with a small smile tugging at his lips, formulated the mischievous Cahill Policy: Nudity would remain illegal at state beaches, but the law would be enforced only when someone complained.
Today, someone is complaining -- mainly park rangers at San Onofre State Beach, who don’t have time to patrol the famous and infamous Trail 6, the southernmost patch of the beach just south of Orange County, named after the blufftop trail down to it. Some of the behavior at the informal nude beach has indeed gone over the line, with public nudity leading to public sex. The state’s parks already are understaffed, and who wants to spend all their time writing citations at Trail 6?
This might be the last summer for San Onofre beachgoers to tan as evenly as chickens on a spit. Though this week the nudists won a round in court that will let them bare themselves into the shortened days of autumn, the judge’s decision was about procedures, not policy. The parks department can still change the rules to crack down on nudity, but it first has to go through the public hearing process.
Those who frequent the beach say the state is avoiding the naked truth: If the well-behaved nudists, who discourage the lewdists, are chased away, the beach will become a free-for-all. It’s an iffy argument, as is the assertion that they have some sort of inherent privilege to shed their clothing. Both state and federal constitutions appear to have overlooked the rights of the bare-bottomed.
Sad to acknowledge, the gentler era of the live-and-let-live Cahill Policy seems to have passed us by. We’re more crowded together. We annoy each other more. We leave less room for one anothers’ idiosyncrasies because there is less room to leave. Tolerant rules that differentiate between mild naughtiness and rude, outrageous behavior are tested to the limit. One side reacts and the other side sues. Even if the Cahill Policy stayed in place, anti-nudist vigilantes would almost certainly make a point of patrolling Trail 6 and filing regular complaints. And if all else fails, both sides could gather signatures for competing state initiatives.