City defends RVs right to camp on beach
While the city council was considering beach-related items on Thursday, March 20, it was also asked to consider banning all recreational vehicle (RV) camping on city beaches - something it was reluctant to do.
The move was requested by Newport Beach and Golf. Partner Sunny Castor told the council that Newport Beach and Golf Ltd., which is developing the high-end property, had agreed to allow RV camping between beach markers 27 and 34 while the property was being developed.
Now that sales of the property are under way, he said, potential buyers are put off by the sight of RVs on the beach in front of lots.
"In the past few weeks, I've taken some people to good properties and gone to some good views, and they've said, 'What are those ugly things there?' And I've had to say they're RVs," Castor said.
"The property we're talking about is not public land and has never been public land," he said. "We're being taxed this year more than $200,000 on this property. We haven't tried to say no more cars, but we do have a problem with the RVs."
Castor said there was an agreement with the city that once the property was developed, no more RV camping would be permitted on the beach in front of it.
"People don't want to see RVs in front of their properties, so we have two worlds colliding -- the people who want to drive down there, park their RVs and enjoy the beach, and the people on much more expensive property there," Kovacs said, adding that there were problems with waste water discharge from trailers and motor homes on the beach in 2005.
City Planning and Projects Director David Parsons agreed that Newport Beach and Golf owns that part of the beach.
"From beach access road 1A, all property owners own down to the high water line", he said. "The (RVs) are on private property per se. What comes into play is the Texas Open Beaches Act, which gives public access to the beach."
"It's like having an easement on property you own," City Attorney Mike Morris said. "If there's concrete over it, it doesn't make any difference whether you own it or not."
"I've always been leery of RVs on the beach, because it takes away from the RV parks, but I hope nobody ever tries to close the beach," Bujan said.
However, Mayor Claude Brown noted that there are problems with trying to move all the RVs into parks: "The RV parks don't allow some RVs there because of the age of the RVs," he said. "You get a lot of campers who tow trailers down here. They didn't come down here to stay in an RV park, they came to stay on the beach. Finding a park that will accept you with an older motor home is tough."
Brown also said restricting RVs on the beach conflicts with a new city ordinance that bans public drinking on the beach during March.
"When we wrote the ordinance on drinking on the beach, we said they could go into their RV and drink," he said. "When I see something like this (proposal), I think when you have a tire that keeps going flat, the proper thing to do is to fix the tire, not keep pumping it up. We're slowly taking away these people's rights. I know people spend seven digits down there (at Newport Beach and Golf), and they have rights, but these people have rights, too, and I'd hate to tell them they can't camp on the beach."
Councilman Bubba Jensen suggested simply repealing the original ordinance that limits RV camping to between beach markers 27 and 34: "We need to undo what happened last time, and at least not concentrate and push everything down there," he said. "I'd hate to see the beach be closed."
"Right now you can park anywhere on the beach, but you can't stay overnight (except between markers 27 and 34), and there there's a three-day limit," Kovacs said. "We're actually following our comprehensive plan, which says when we get complaints from business owners, we'll try to take care of them."
But Jensen scoffed at the three-day camping limit.
"When that three day limit is up, you don't have to leave, you only have to move over," he said.
"I understand the open beaches act and I understand Mr. Castor's point that where they're camping is actually private property. I think we're mixing two concepts," said Councilman Keith Donley. "Access doesn't give you the right to park. It gives you the right to drive down the beach and unload your chairs and stuff, but where does it give you the right to park?"
"The state (open beaches law) also says you can shut the beaches down as long as you provide one off-beach parking spot for every parking spot that's closed," Castor pointed out. "All we're asking is that you get the campers off our beach. It's reducing our property values."
"You have an ordinance that restricts camping to between those two markers," Morris said. "If you repeal that, they'll spread out like they used to."
"I'd like to see alternative plans for people whose rights we're taking away," Councilman Mike Hall protested. "We're talking about cutting it off tonight, but we're not giving them an alternative. Do we own some property or can we obtain some property? I don't know, but it seems like every year we take away some more rights."
"I think if we reverse that decision, it's not taking rights away from them, it's giving them some rights back and at the same time relieving pressure in front of Newport Beach and Golf," Jensen argued.
Hall suggested putting the matter before voters in a city-wide referendum.
"You can't do this tonight, it's an ordinance," Morris said (repealing city ordinances requires three public readings). "You can repeal it, but you can't do it in one night. The part you're talking about is the one that restricts camping. You'd have to tell the staff to prepare an ordinance repealing that part of the existing ordinance."
"I have the impression people gravitate more toward town," said Councilman Keith McMullin, who, as a "turtle patroller" for the Animal Rehabilitation Keep drives the beach frequently during sea turtle nestings. "If we put it back the way it was, at least we can go from there. I, too, am opposed to reducing rights, but there's a Port Aransas for everyone."
The unanimous council vote was to tell the staff to bring an ordinance that repeals the existing law restricting RV camping to between beach markers 27 and 34.