Beaches are on my mind right now, maybe because the promise of summer seems closer today, with all the blue skies and sunshine. But the recent news about Sander’s Beach has dredged up old memories and many unanswered questions.
The Press ran an article last Tuesday about one of the lake-front homeowners offering his 120 feet of beach to the city. Gerry Frank’s house is adjacent to the city-owned Jewett House, so his beach is next to the already public Jewett beach and would thereby offer people an extended stretch of sand. A public access route would run right down 15th street, between Gerry’s and the Jewett House, directly to the beach.
In return for giving away his beach rights, Gerry was asking that the section of Lakeshore Drive in front of his house be changed from a vehicle street to a pedestrian and bike path. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? But the city turned him down.
There’s a boatload of history behind this issue, far more than can be covered in a simple newsletter. But I’ll try to give you a synopsis of what I know and what I’ve heard:
--Way, way back, the well-loved Dr. Fox and other lake front owners used to let everyone use the beach in front of their homes. This went on for decades but eventually deteriorated as an entitlement attitude crept into some that used the beach. Maybe they were new to the area, but they didn’t seem to realize that the homeowners owned the beach, by title, same as every property owner on the lake, paid taxes on it every year and were responsible for all maintenance and upkeep.
The homeowners were increasingly confronted with disturbing late night parties on the beach, including the leftover bottles, trash and things that can’t be described in a family newsletter. Even during the day, the problems escalated. Commercial enterprises brought in (and still do) big trailers and parked in front, with their kayaks and scuba gear to rent. Out of towners would bring (and still do) big RVs and park for the whole day. And at the end of a hot summer evening, the homeowners would be tasked with picking up the abandoned trash, dirty diapers and all.
The lake front owners knew these abuses were not from the conscientious neighbors back behind, or from responsible citizens of CdA. But nonetheless, it was a problem to be addressed.
--Informal negotiations were attempted; ideas were discussed. I’m told that there were a couple of very promising possibilities. One was that the beach would be open to the public, maintained by the city, but gated and closed after 10pm. This apparently got as far as ordering the gates, then was nixed by the city. The second or possibly concurrent idea was that Lakeshore Drive, the street between the homes and the beach, would be closed to cars. The neighbors on the streets behind balked at this. They didn’t want beach-goers parking in front of their houses either. And so it went.
--Then, in 2004, the city brought a lawsuit against the homeowners, ostensibly to have the courts decide where the property line ends on the beach at the “high water mark”. This was interesting timing and we will never know exactly why. It is notable, though, that Mike Gridley, the top city attorney both then and now, was running for the state legislature that Fall, under the Democrat party. He organized the lawsuit effort. Could he have timed it to coincide with his campaign so he would look like the savior of Sander’s Beach? Here’s what lake front homeowner Gerry Frank said a year later, at a city council meeting on Jan. 4, 2005 when he asked the city to drop the lawsuit: (taken from the meeting minutes) “... the issue isn’t who owns the beach but public access. He reminded the Council that the homeowners had been working with the City for over a year to resolve this issue; however, their proposed solutions had not even been presented to the Council. Now, with this lawsuit, the Council has alienated the property owners, which compromises the City’s efforts for public access.”
--In the end, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the ordinary high water mark is, as was traditionally believed for years, 2128 ft. above sea level. Their decision meant that Sander’s beach is privately owned by the homeowners. The city spent who-knows-how-many thousands of dollars on legal fees for the two year court battle. The sad part, in my opinion, is that the homeowners were forced to spend all of that and more in legal fees to defend their property rights.
And what did they get for it? Anger from the public. They were depicted as greedy, rich, mean people. There were nasty signs spray painted on their beach retaining walls and there were even public demonstrations against them. The neighbors behind no longer felt welcome on the beach and life-long friends now had animosity toward each other.
--Time has passed and now Mr. Frank offers another option for beach access. The city has, according to this week’s Press article, worked “very hard” to figure out the traffic issues the changes would cause. But the public never got in on the effort. All the city council’s discussions were done in Executive Session, away from the public eye, the city administrator admitted. Did the city consider using the East Tubb’s Hill parking lot as the place for beach-goers to park? Yes, it would be a short walk, but only a few blocks. What other options did they consider and reject? We’ll never know, we’re just the taxpayers!
My opinion is that, once again, the city has failed to utilize the power of citizen involvement in solving important community problems. Their lack of respect is obvious, and their mishandling of this sensitive situation has been unnecessarily expensive and sadly divisive.
Have a great weekend,