An article about California’s coast that caught my eye recently turned out to be a remembrance of Peter Douglas, who was responsible for writing and helping pass the measure that created the California Coastal Commission and then served as its executive director for 25 years. I did not know Mr. Douglas personally, and I am not going to recite his accomplishments on behalf of that spectacular coast; but I will share my personal memories of it.
I grew up in northern New York as far from sunny beaches as one could be. Never a strong swimmer and with fair skin that burned from even short exposure to the sun, when I moved to Los Angeles in 1982 it was not for the siren song of Malibu beach! But like many before me I soon found myself making a regular trek to the coast. Los Angeles seemed to have no end to it or at least not one that didn’t require a couple of hours of driving. From my west LA apartment a 45 minute Sunday morning drive not only got me to the beach but well up the coast to what became my favorite haunt – Westward Beach in Malibu. Adjacent to the better known Zuma Beach, what attracted me to it was its relative isolation and solitude. I would arrive early – always before eight – and leave early as well just as the crowds were starting to build. I was usually covered from head to toe in clothing for sun protection and rarely did more than dip a toe in the water. Nonetheless the beach became for me my retreat from the city and something I looked forward to all week long.
As I read about Mr. Douglas’ advocacy on behalf of the public’s right to access and enjoy California’s coastline, I thought about those Sunday mornings and was grateful for his efforts and those of so many other who recognized the incomparable gift that the state’s coast is. It became a bit of a game over the years as I traveled the coast to spot the coastal access signs that were result of the Commission’s work (and all too often in the face of dogged opposition by the privileged and wealthy who are fortunate enough to own a piece of that coast and somehow feel that their enjoyment of it will be lost if it must be shared with the public). I can think of no better memorial to Mr. Douglas than to insure those signs remain forever and grow in numbers over the years.