Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 98 - Beaches

As a psychologist, it's always been interesting to me which issues get people here heated up and which leave them cold. Dogs, and particularly the venues for their elimination functions, never fail to cause a stir. Mention affordable housing and people who are not heard from on any other issues will rise up, tar and feathers in hand, to greet you. Anything involving golf and to a lesser extent tennis will bring high passions from some.


But no issue seems to bring up as much choler as that of beach access and, frankly, I'm at a loss to see why. Yes, almost 40 years ago the deed that passed Incline Village from its developers to IVGID said what it said. Yes, the merger between IVGID and CBGID 27 years later said what it said. That was then, this is now.


It has been asserted that beach access is worth $50,000 additional value to Incline properties over presumably comparable Crystal Bay properties; yet comparable properties in Incline that have no access to Incline beaches seem to share in that $50,000 added value, so is it really because of beach access? Yet some have said that CB residents should pay that supposed $50,000 differential to get beach access. This argument makes no sense to me. To whom would they pay it? There are 400 parcels that don't have beach access and about 8600 that do. Should we create a buddy system where each of the 400 is paired with 21.5 of the 8600 and pays each of them $2,325.58 cents? And if we do that, are we prepared to guarantee that each of the 400 will get $50,000 more for their property when they sell it?


Then there is the "do what's right" argument. Proponents of this view say, in effect, "they knew when they bought that they didn't have beach access, so tough." I wonder how far they are willing to go to be right about this position. Deed restrictions and CC&R's do not have a good track record in the courts. Remember that there was a time when restrictions on who could live where and what they could do were common – CC&R's were used to keep out minorities, to force unreasonable compliance with regard to appearance, etc., and the courts have generally knocked down what they have held to be restrictive covenants.


Also the courts have not looked kindly on restrictions to natural attractions such as beaches. In cases in Connecticut and California previously restricted beaches were opened to the public when the restrictions were challenged in court. In the view of many this would be the worst possible outcome for all concerned and if that $50,000 differential is real, you can kiss it goodbye if the beaches are opened to the public. You can also kiss our relatively pleasant and uncrowded beaches goodbye. Is standing on a principle that I think is dubious in its logic to begin with worth that?


Here's the simple solution: give everyone who owns property in the district equal access to the beaches for an equal rec fee. Oh I know that some people will howl and I may lose some friends over this "principle." As I said, I think the principle is dubious and the potential cost of being right very high. When I lived in Vermont there was a gravestone in an old cemetery that said "Here lies the body of Justin Gray/He died defending his right of way/His right was real/His case was strong/And he's as dead as if he were wrong."


I think it is laudable that the IVGID Board of Trustees is willing to spend some 13 hours (hopefully with breaks) on Monday to give everyone a chance to speak their peace. If things go the way they usually go here the anti-change forces will be out in numbers and the other side will be poorly represented. No matter – this is not an issue that should be decided by popular preference. Rather the Board should do what is right for the Village as a whole and its future, and endangering the privacy of our beaches is not what is right. For the math-impaired, 400 is 4.65% of 8600. That means on a day when Incline Beach would now have 200 people, this change might mean there would be 210. On the other hand, if this goes to court, and you can bet it will, that 200 could be 400 or more as people from Reno, the Bay Area, and everywhere else stream in.

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