naked 0000141 Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

Naked surfing. Naked volleyball. Naked sunbathing. Naked swimming.

Another sunny afternoon here in a remote patch of San Onofre State Beach, where birthday suits far outnumber bathing ones.

“If you have clothes on, that’s seen as strange,” said Bill Hendrick, 51, wearing nothing but a red bandanna on his head. “It’s not seen as a weird place, among us. It seems more natural. That’s the only word to describe it.”

This, after all, is Southern California, known for its “anything goes” attitude, where even the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, once posed nude, in a photograph from his bodybuilder days that has been widely circulated on the Web.

But the scores of nudists at this popular spot, 60 miles south of Los Angeles, are violating a ban on nudity at state parks. Now, after three decades of relative tolerance, the state plans to enforce the prohibition here after Labor Day, setting off a court battle. There has been sex on the beach and in the parking lot and restrooms, including trysts arranged through Craigslist, officials said. Park workers, in violation of their civil rights, have been sexually harassed by nude patrons. More inhibited members of the public have complained after stumbling upon the nude section of the beach, a 1,000-foot stretch at the southern tip adjacent to the Camp Pendleton Marine base.

The new parks department supervisor for the region, Richard Haydon, said that contrary to the belief among nudists that he had a vendetta against them, there had been a recent increase in complaints, though he would not give details. In the past decade, Mr. Haydon said, there have been 180 citations for illicit behavior. http://louis-j-sheehan.net

“It was never formally designated as a clothing optional beach,” Mr. Haydon said in an interview. “People go down there and are uncomfortable. Some people are uncomfortable with nudity. Some people are uncomfortable with sex acts in public. Some people aren’t. But to those who are, what do I tell them?”

A group of nudists is suing to block any ban. They argue that no matter what the law says, parks department policy, backed by a previous state court case, has been not to ticket offenders unless they refuse to cover up after somebody files a complaint.

A state judge last week issued a tentative ruling in the nudists’ favor, requiring the department to adhere to its administrative procedures in changing the regulation, including posting notice of the change and holding a hearing. Parks officials recently put up “nudity prohibited” signs, and rangers began telling bare-bottomed beachgoers of the change. The judge is expected to deliver a final ruling in the coming days.

Whatever the outcome, fans of the nude beach said they would not cover up. Mr. Haydon would not say what the department would do in that event, but he had told local reporters that his agency was making arrangements with local law enforcement.

Nudists said the only thing that had changed in recent months was the arrival of Mr. Haydon.

A Huntington Beach lawyer and advocate for nudism, R. Allen Baylis, acknowledged there had been occasional problems at the beach, including a sex offender who was caught last fall molesting a boy on the sands. http://louis-j-sheehan.net

But it was nudists who called 911, several said, and most abide by a flier handed out to newcomers that advises, “if you wouldn’t do it in front of a police officer, don’t do it here.” Most indiscreet behavior, Mr. Baylis said, has occurred on federal property, not the state beach, beyond a fence marking the base boundary and warning visitors not to trespass.

On the rare occasion when rangers ask people to cover up, most comply, Mr. Baylis said. “It’s the big hammer, this heavy hand of government trying to shut it down,” he said.

Conflict arises at nude beaches across the country because, like here, the law is often murky and determined not just by statutes but by case law, policy directives and common practice, said Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the American Association for Nude Recreation.

“It does seem states try to play the fence a bit, but unfortunately it does lead to user conflict,” he said. “It is that kind of vagueness that can lead to conflict.”

Nudists here have few options. Another unofficial but less accessible clothing optional beach is 35 miles south in San Diego, and there is another north of Santa Barbara, but no others in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are as appealing as this one, which is also famous for its surfing spots.

“I’ll be really bummed if they close it,” said Dano Dickerson, 41, after a round of nude surfing.

At the heart of the controversy, nudists said, is a tendency to conflate nudity with sexuality.

“There’s nothing sexual about a nude beach,” said Tracy Verrett, 31, one of a handful of newcomers erasing some tan lines. “People think you are like a swinger or something, but it’s not that at all.”

Instead, said Gerda Hayes, 64, relaxing in the buff on a chair, it is like any beach outing — socializing with friends, soaking in the rays and getting closer to nature. http://louis-j-sheehan.net

“As you can see, some people are heavy, some people are short, some are tall, some are skinny,” Ms. Hayes said. “But we are all the same. You are not identified with the designer clothing you are wearing or not wearing. We are all accepted for what we are.”   Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

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