Bonny Doon Beach's "Clothing-Optional" status is at risk!

by Rich Pasco

After forty years of unquestioned nude use, Bonny Doon Beach is at risk of losing its status as a "clothing-optional" beach. This page explains why, and how you can help prevent it.


History of nude use at Bonny Doon

Bonny Doon Beach saw frequent nude use in the 1960's, following Experimental Beach 1958 (XB-58), a gathering of nudists from clubs all over California organized by Sol Stern, Stan Stohler, and Ed Lange, to bring attention to the concept of a nude public beach.

Continuing nude use at Bonny Doon was legally sanctioned at the state level by a 1972 California Supreme Court decision in re Smith which held that simple beach nudity (absent motives of shock or sexual arousal) does not constitute the crime of indecent exposure, and at the county level by the lack of any county ordinances against nudity.

This author began visiting Bonny Doon Beach in 1973, enjoying nude sunbathing and swimming there.

In 1988, the South Bay Naturists (now Bay Area Naturists) "adopted" Bonny Doon Beach for the annual Coastal Cleanup.

In 1989 Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors announced plans to "develop" the North Coast Beaches, including picnic tables, rest rooms, and pay parking lots. The citizen response was so overwhelming at three 1990 public hearings (June 19, and August 28, and September 25) that on October 16, 1990, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors established the North Coast Beaches Advisory Committee, comprising citizen representatives from area residents and beach users, including board sailors, hang gliders, surfers, naturists, and others. No doubt the naturists' visibility due to the annual cleanup helped earn the county supervisors' respect and a seat on the committee.

For the past sixteen years the status on the beach has been unchanged, but behind-the-scenes activity has led to the transfer this year from private ownership with county management to state park ownership and management for the future. See article below.

History of nudity in State Parks

Meanwhile a separate history was unfolding around nudity in California State Parks.

Under California law, nudity is prohibited in State Parks except in areas designated for the purpose. In 1979 State Parks director Russell Cahill declined to designate any "clothing-optional" beaches but decreed that enforcement would be only following complaint of a private citizen. This well-established decree became known as the Cahill Policy. A February 1988 court case California v. Bost held that such designation need not be by signs, but may also be by well-publicized traditional nude use. In a June 1988 letter, State Parks deputy director Jack Harrison affirmed the Cahill policy.

Bonny Doon Beach becomes State Park

In a long-anticipated move, the California State Parks Department voted on July 14, 2006 to accept five miles of rugged coastline in northern Santa Cruz County, including famous Bonny Doon Beach and other nearby traditionally clothing-optional beaches.

According to State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns, the beaches will be listed on the state parks Web site, signs will be posted, and rangers will start patrolling the beaches in 2007.

It remains to be seen whether the State will follow the Cahill Policy of respecting traditional nude bathing areas (as they have at Black's, San Onofre, and Gray Whale Cove), or try to reverse the nude tradition (as they did at Garrapata Beach in Monterey County, a former nude beach until it came under State Park jurisdiction a few years ago). Bonny Doon has been "clothing optional" since the 1960's .

The Coast Dairies Ranch comprises 6,845 acres of redwood forests, artichoke fields and rolling hills along five miles of coastline northwest of Santa Cruz. [See map.] In 1998 the Trust for Public Land of California bought the ranch for $45 million, nearly half of which was provided by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, taking it out of the hands of potential developers. Since then the San Francisco conservation group has been trying to donate the beachfront land to the State, which had until this June declined to accept the gift, citing lack of funds to hire rangers.

On Friday, July 14, 2006 the state Public Works Board voted unanimously to accept the 407 acres of the ranch west of Highway 1, considering $16.7 million in new funding allocated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another 5,701 acres east of Highway 1 will transfer to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management later this year, according to Reed Holderman, executive director of the Trust. The remainder of the ranch will be donated to Agri-Culture, a Watsonville group run by the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, which will manage leases to farmers, Holderman said."

The Threat

As noted above, Bonny Doon Beach is becoming a state park. When this happens, it will fall under the State Parks rules on nudity. As also noted above, nudity is permitted in designated areas of State Parks, but some recent trends cause naturists to be concerned about the future of nudity in California State Parks:

How you can help: "Friends of Bonny Doon Beach" team needed

"Crucial to preserving the clothing-optional status of Bonny Doon Beach as it becomes a State Park (see story above) is having a group of articulate beach users available to meet with park officials and express naturist concerns," said Naturist Action Committee (NAC) director Allen Baylis when asked for help in this matter. While NAC provides experience and coaching support, it needs local beach regulars willing to step forward to show concern and desire. "We can't expect the state to establish an official nude beach without demonstrable local interest in having it," Baylis said.

Regular users of Bonny Doon Beach willing to participate in such meetings please contact us.

If you cannot serve personally but want to make a monetary contribution, please send a check to Naturist Action Committee, P.O. Box 132, Oshkosh WI 54902, or use your credit card to make a direct donation online through NACís Web site.