On the 40th anniversary of major legislation to protect the California coast, a new poll shows that voters deeply care about the state's shoreline and think it's too hard to get to many of its beaches, tide pools and coves.
Released Thursday, the survey by the Field Poll and UCLA shows that 90% of registered voters in California say the condition of the ocean and the state's beaches is important to them personally, with 57% believing they are very important.
Pollsters found, however, that 62% of voters are concerned about limited access to the coastline and larger majorities stated that a lack of public transit to the beach, affordable parking and affordable overnight accommodations are problems.
"The vast majority of Californians care deeply about the coast," said Jon Christensen of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, which participated in the survey. "But the Field Poll and our beach surveys this summer show that the coast is not accessible to all Californians."
The poll commemorates the passage of the California Coastal Act of 1976, which permanently established the California Coastal Commission. The law gave the planning agency broad powers to protect the environment, oversee development, provide public access and manage marine resources along 1,100 miles of coast.
Researchers said they interviewed 1,800 registered voters in English and Spanish from Oct. 25 to Oct. 31. Methods were used to ensure that the sample adequately reflected the state's demographics and regional differences, including age, ethnicity, income and proximity to the coast.
The poll "reaffirms the very sentiment that created the Coastal Commission to begin with: Californians love their coast," said Jack Ainsworth, the agency's acting executive director. "There is much more work to do. But just imagine what the coastline would look like today if not for the Coastal Act."
According to the survey, 77% of voters visit the coast at least once a year. Of that total, 37% visit several times a year and 26% visit at least once a month or more.
Researchers found that voters under the age of 40, parents with children under age 18 and people living in counties along the ocean visit the coast more than others. Least likely to visit are African Americans, residents of the Central Valley and people age 65 or older.
In addition, voters with household incomes of at least $60,000 a year are likely to visit the coast more frequently than those making less than $40,000 annually.
Christensen said that improving coastal access and providing public transit, affordable parking and affordable accommodations will not be easy. Solutions will require the cooperation of local governments, transit agencies, community organizations and the Coastal Commission.
Organizations that represent low income and minority communities inland have been encouraging the commission to develop access programs to help those in urban areas get to and enjoy the beach.
"The commission's authority is fairly limited when it comes to requiring more affordable overnight facilities, and it has no authority to provide reasonable public transit to the coast," said Commissioner Mary Shallenberger. "Both are essential to providing coastal access for everyone, not just the rich."
The poll builds on a survey done during the summer by UCLA and San Francisco State University. Interviews of 1,000 beachgoers in Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties found they were deeply connected to the coast and went to the beach at least several times a year.
Latinos, African Americans and low wage earners said, however, that the cost of visiting the beach and the lack of public transit were obstacles to visiting the coast.