Proposal for Bates Beach (North Rincon)

We believe that all beach users should have access to California’s beaches and, where practical, certain sections be set aside for clothing-optional use.

Why designate a small section of beach for clothing-optional use? Local governments routinely set aside land for special use such as dog parks, tennis courts, municipal golf courses, bridle trails, paintball areas, etc. Those who believe in clothing-optional recreation believe that they have the same right and are entitled to the same consideration. This is particularly true when access to the beach and the ocean is a resource that cannot be practically obtained except by government cooperation.

Sign on beach - Naturists area starts 900 meters from this point A Zogby poll found that 80% of Santa Barbara residents agreed with us, and that number rose to 98% when the designated beach has proper signage to alert others that it is nearby

We feel nude or clothing optional recreation is a valid recreation that helps the county better serve the diverse recreational interests of the public. Those who enjoy it should be allowed to do so.

We appreciate the concerns of some people who wish to separate themselves and their families from such a beach area and to raise their children in a way they see fit. We ask the same courtesy. Therefore, to avoid user conflict we ask that proper signage be placed so that people will know where we are and they can make a choice to use that part of the beach or not.


Bates July, 1999
Bates July, 2014

Until 2000, the western/northern side of the beach had a 50-year tradition of clothing-optional use. It attracted several hundred people on summer weekends, and the beach was always considered safe and family-friendly. Despite a nudity ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors in 1977, the clothing optional status of Bates had not been seriously threatened and law enforcement adopted an unofficial live-and-let-live relationship with beachgoers there. When the occasional voyeur appeared, the nudists took care to shoo them away and off the beach.

In 2000, deputies started writing tickets because they thought if the nudists went away, the group of lewd men who hung out under the railroad tracks above would go away. They were wrong: county statistics show about a dozen tickets for lewd behavior continue to be given every year whether the nudists are on the beach below or not. (The Rincon Trail construction should finally destroy their area but that is another topic.)

Local officials also hoped that the clothed beachgoers who congregated on the eastern side of the beach (where the surfers are) would now move their blankets and repopulate the northern half of the beach. That did not happen either. Instead, because now the northern half was deserted even on the busiest holiday weekends, it become a haven for lewd activity, drug dealers, and gang graffiti. The parking lot became a known destination for drug use and even prostitution.

In 2010, Santa Barbara County spent nearly a million dollars upgrading the parking lot and picnic area above the beach about that time, but to no avail; the beach remained starkly under-used. Today, people letting their dogs run free are the only ones using the northern half of the beach.

Gang graffiti overlooks the beach.

For ten years we have watched the northern end deteriorate. After a decade of crime and trash at Bates, it is obvious that removing the nudists did not solve the problem but made it worse. The County Parks acknowledged this when they placed a trailer in the Bates Beach parking lot in 2009, housing two security guards to reduce the amount of drug sales and prostitution. County Parks also installed a gate and closed the beach after sundown.

Friends of Bates Beach is Born

Friends of Bates Beach (FOBB) was organized in 2006 to reverse this growing threat of beach crime and to promote a return to a more diverse use of Bates Beach.

We reached the conclusion that the only way to re-populate the northern half of beach quickly with adequate numbers to reverse the crime trend there was to bring the clothing-optional community back.

The county’s nudist community, which is extensive, has been quietly in exile, waiting for permission to return.

So, we asked the community their opinion. They liked the idea.

FOBB asked local merchants, who told us they wanted this beach group back because those beachgoers will spend tourist money in town at restaurants and local hotels. We joined the local Chamber of Commerce in 2007 and earned a positive response from its members after many one-on-one conversations with its business leaders.

FOBB has also spoken to countless county officials, tourist promoters, members of law enforcement, and small business leaders throughout the county. Not one said they opposed the return of the nudists to Bates Beach. However, none of them would support the idea publicly until - and unless - the County Board of Supervisors agreed to amend the 1977 ordinance so that the designated beach had legal standing.

In 2010, we spoke to Lt. Eric Koopmans and a year later to his successor, Lt. Kelley Moore, whose division supervises the south county. They told us they had no objections to the nudists, but the officers could not ignore the law. They also urged us to get the ordinance amended. We received the same advice from State Parks Area Superintendent Richard Rozelle in 2011. When Brad McVey became the new police chief in 2012, he told us he would make enforcement of the nudity ordinance a very low priority, subject only to people calling in a complaint, as his officers had better things to do with their time. Since Michael Perkins replaced the retired McVey in 2015, small groups of nudists have peacefully returned to the northern end of the beach, with few, if any, complaints.

We Commissioned a Poll:

In July, 2015, FOBB co-funded a Zogby Poll, asked Californians its opinion about clothing-optional beaches. All of the polling questions and results are available here.

Key Results:

  • 73% agree that people should be able to enjoy nude sunbathing on a beach or other location that is accepted for that purpose? In Santa Barbara County, the percentage of approval was 83% yes, and it rose to 95% when we asked if there should be signs at the beach telling people of the designation so they could choose to go that direction or not. This parallels earlier polls taken by the Roper Organization in 2006 (74% approval), and one taken in June 2008 by readers of the Santa Barbara Independent — 81% in favor.
  • 35% of California adults say they have skinny-dipped or experienced nude sunbathing with others.
  • Of significance to politicians, we also asked: If a candidate for public office supported the designation of clothing-optional areas on public land, would you be more or less likely to support that candidate, less likely to support that candidate, or would it make no difference?
    More likely: 24%
    Less Likely: 26%
    No difference: 41%
    This means 65% of voters saw this as a positive thing to support or else it did not make a difference when deciding whether or not to support the candidate!

Summary of the Law and Applicable Court Cases

A more complete summary of Federal, State, and Local Nudity Laws is here.

There is no federal law against nudity. A letter from the LA Sheriff Department confirms it and instructs his deputies to enforce only lewd behavior.

The California Code Section 314-318.6 states Every person who willfully and lewdly exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed is guilty of a felony.

1972, In re Smith: Mere nudity does not constitute a form of sexual activity.

1979, Pryor v. Municipal Court: The CA State Supreme Court ruled: We construe the phrase ‘lewd or dissolute conduct’ [section 647] to prohibit only the solicitation or commission of conduct in a public place… by a person who knows or should know of the presence of persons who may be offended by the conduct.

1989. California vs. Eric John Bost: …Simple beach nudity is not indecent exposure… Fair notice must be given before a citation is issued.

2010, Nunez v Holder: …a sunbather who removes all his clothes to tan on an unoccupied public beach and wakes to find himself surrounded by offended beachgoers has done nothing either lewd or depraved and thus is neither in violation… nor guilty of a morally turpitudinous act. — 9th Circuit Court of Appeal

In reality. the degree of enforcement often depends on the personal beliefs of the deputy involved. In practice, federal, state and local nudity laws are unevenly enforced, and often based on practical or manpower budgetary considerations, and also with what is practical for everyone concerned at the moment. Many deputies and rangers simply issue warnings, or tell the nudist to get dressed, or else they direct the nude person to a different less-populated location.

Our Proposal

Proposal Boundary

We wish to bring the 1977: Santa Barbara County Ordinance up to date so it conform with several important court cases that have occurred since. Our proposed changes are shown below in bold and red text:

Sec. 24-15. Nudity --Offenses numerated; penalties.

a. It is hereby declared a public nuisance and unlawful for any person to appear on any beach, park, street or in any other public place or place open to the public or exposed to public view, including specifically a view from any private residence or any portion of the real property in the immediate vicinity of such private residence, whether such place is publicly or privately owned, unclothed or in such a state of undress as to expose, in the case of a female, any portion of her breasts below the areolas thereof or in the case of any male or female, any part of his or her pubic or anal region or genitalia, except as follows:

b. The provisions of section shall not apply to locations specifically set aside for this purpose, nor to any acts which take place wholly within a fully enclosed building or any portion thereof; and nothing contained herein shall be construed to prohibit any act or acts which are expressly authorized or prohibited by the Penal Code of the state.

c. The county specifically sets aside for this purpose the northern end of North Rincon (Bates) County Beach, starting at GPS N 34° 22.695″ W 119° 28.949″ and ending at GPS N 34° 22.905″ W 119° 29.294″.

d. The County Parks Commission. may be designated for clothing-optional use other physical locations or by permit other events such as parades, fairs, or festivals.

e. Violations of this section shall be an infraction punishable by a fine in the sum of fifty dollars for a first violation; a fine in the sum of one hundred dollars for a second violation of this section within one year after the first violation; and a fine in the sum of two hundred fifty dollars for each additional violation within one year after a second violation and within one year after any subsequent violation of this section thereafter. (Ord. No. 2507, § 1; Ord. No. 2564, § 1; Ord. No. 2931, § 1)

We are not asking for a county-wide lifting of the current nudity ban, simply a designation of one place so that the county can fulfill the diverse needs of its constituents. We are also creating a method for considering other designated locations or special events in the future.

Why Designate the Santa Barbara County Parks Commission to Handle Future Needs?

Because culture constantly evolves, circumstances may require other adjustments to this ordinance. Therefore we are also adding an amendment clause to the county ordinance that allows the County Parks Commission to grant other exceptions, as yet unknown, rather than forcing everyone back to the Board of Supervisors for other amendment in the future.

We are not locked in to having the granting agency be CPC, but we offer it as a logical choice. Its members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors and it can regulate future demands as the times may dictate. They should also be allowed to issue permits for special events that occur now in other cities and counties across the country, should such ever be proposed in the County.

We are not asking for legal clothing-optional status at any of the other beaches that were traditionally that way over a decade ago.

Beach Ambassadors

A more complete text about the Ambassador programs is here.

One of the talking points of those opposed to designated clothing-optional areas in the state and county is that these areas also attract outsiders intent on performing lewd acts or other illegal activity nearby. We strongly agree this inappropriate activity does not belong on or near our beaches! Our solution is for these designated clothing-optional beach area to informally organize themselves and create a sort of Neighborhood Watch for their beach.

These Ambassadors will consist of trained volunteers, based upon similar programs at other clothing-optional beaches across the country. They will observe any unusual behavior, and simply by making their presence known most of that bad behavior will stop or move along. They will also report to law enforcement when the situation makes that necessary.

An Ambassador program was NOT in place during the 1980s and 90s when there were complaints of lewd behavior occurring nearby. We think this, along with the building of the Rincon Trail, which will close off those places where the behavior occurred, will help solve that problem.

A Beach Ambassador program currently is used at all the large nudist beaches around the country, including Haulover in Florida, Sandy Hook at Gunnison Beach in New Jersey, and at Black’s Beach near San Diego. The program has successfully eliminated most of this inappropriate behavior from their designated areas.

Friends of Bates Beach (FOBB) has started a Beach Ambassador program at Bates (North Rincon) County Beach. It will go into full operation once the beach receives its legal clothing-optional status.

Environmental Impact: None

The beach is not touched in any way by our being there. In fact, since our group always picks up its own trash (and any other lying nearby) we leave the sand better than how we found it!

Financial Impact: None

No new facilities are built or removed. The only thing that may happen is there may be more people on the Rincon Trail above the beach, more bicycles in the racks and more cars in the parking lot above the beach. These are positive results in line with county goals!

What Happens Next?

You Don’t Have To Be A Nudist Yourself To Support This Proposal!

All you have to do is believe that nudists have the right to their own space to enjoy their chosen lifestyle, just as we support the rights of others to their own beliefs and values, even if they differ from ours.