Naked in Pacifica

New ordinance outlaws seaside nudity

By Chris Hunter
Tribune Editor

It's going to be harder to slip into your wetsuit before going surfing at Rockaway Beach or Linda Mar's Pacifica State Beach thanks to a new ordinance approved Monday night by the City Council.

That is, it's going to become illegal to strip down in public to change your clothes before jumping into the Pacific Ocean for a swim or a surf.

With Pacifica's historic attraction for surfers from all over the Bay Area combined with its minimal beach accommodations, there has been an occasional bare butt visible to the world.

Those bare butts, breasts and other private parts, briefly exposed by surfers and swimmers who feel their swiftness in purpose has eliminated the notion of modesty, will now be cited under Title 5 (Public Welfare, Morals and Conduct) Chapter 30 (Nudity and Disrobing) of the Pacifica Municipal Code.

The actual wording of the ordinance specifies exactly which body parts must never make public appearances: "No person shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk, change clothes, disrobe or be on any beach, street, public or public access parking lot, or other public place in such a manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic symphysis, pubic hair, buttock, natal cleft, perineum, anus, anal region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view, except in those portions of a comfort station, if any, expressly set aside for such purpose."

The strictness of the new ordinance does not apply to kids under the age of 10, as long as "such children are sufficiently clothed to conform to accepted community standards."

And, in a valiant defense of art, the amendment does not apply to "persons engaged in a live theatrical performance in a theater, concert hall, or similar establishment which is primarily devoted to theatrical performances." (The Pacifica Spindrift Players community theater group has seldom, if ever, required a nude scene in any production, but at least now they know they won't be shut down if they ever do.) Police Chief Ted Merritt said Monday that he made sure to address the artistic possibility of nudity in Pacifica, not wanting the new ordinance to become a subjective censor.

"There's a changing area in Rockaway Beach," said Mayor Maxine Gonsalves.

"But do you think people change in that area? Some are pretty careful, but others just disrobe. I think it causes a problem and I'll be in favor of the amendment."

Gonsalves said that she had never even noticed a problem before last year and that no constituent of hers had ever complained to her personally.

According to the staff report, the ordinance came to the City Council due to "numerous complaints of public nudity on the beaches, as well as on adjacent streets and parking areas."

Councilmember Barbara Carr said that she was responsible for bringing the nudity issue to the council. She was responding to a request from local restaurateur Chuck Gust, of Nick's restaurant (named after his father) in Rockaway Beach.

Gust sent a letter to Carr in February, asking for city involvement in getting surfers to be a bit more discreet in public places.

Nick Gust, reached Monday, was pleased that the City Council had finally acted on something that has troubled him for years. He said he was unaware that his son Chuck had instigated the new effort, but was happy for the success.

"Years ago, it was real bad," said Nick Gust. "These people have no decency or respect."

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gust sought to have the city take some action but was always told by then-City Manager Dan Pincetich (himself a surfer) that there was no way to curb the nudity. The new ordinance makes it clear that public nudity by surfers and swimmers will no longer be tolerated.

"All we are saying is that the California coastline is a gift to the surfers," said Gust. "But they have to respect the public also."

Gust stressed that he believed local surfers were not the problem. "I think it's more out-of-towners," he said. "The local ones are all good."

Nick's restaurant has had to deal with discourteous and disrobing surfers because it is right on the beach. Gust said that some people have even tried to use the restaurant's water hose to wash off their surfboards.

"This is long overdue," said Gust. "All anybody is asking is for a little bit of control. At least this ordinance is a tool."

"They do disrobe without using a towel," said Carr. "I don't know how serious public nudity is, but if I want to go to a nudist colony, I'll go to a nudist colony. I don't think this is unreasonable. A caring, discretionary person would use a towel. I'm not exactly a prude, you know."

Carr mentioned she has seen surfers stripping down out of their wetsuits on Nick Gust Way. She also mentioned that one surfer changed clothes in the parking lot of the Pacifica Community Center one day a few years ago, unsuccessfully covering his nudity with a towel. The entire City Council, meeting for a special session in the center's library room, (with picture windows looking out on the parking lot), took in an unintended mooning. Carr did joke that perhaps the City Council should sell beach towels to generate revenue for the city.

"We're not talking about surfers, about those who wrap a towel around themselves," Carr told the audience Monday night, well aware of the fervor the issue had raised among surfing enthusiasts.

"The blame is not with the surfers, but with those few who would not cover up at all. They would be well to go three miles down the street to the nudie beach," she said.

"I caution you to read the ordinance," Carr continued, claiming it was the media, not the council, which had specifically linked the ordinance to surfers.

"I, too, have seen this while walking my dog in Rockaway," said Mayor Gonsalves. "It's not like we don't have changing areas."

While Pacifica does have legal recourse through state law when it comes to indecent exposure, ("they require willful intent to be lewd, and require a victim to be offended or annoyed"), there has never been anything on the books to prohibit surfers and swimmers from making a quick change.

"In Pacifica, a great deal of the complaints have involved individuals changing their clothes in public," stated the staff report. "Many of these instances have occurred in parking areas adjacent to a major thoroughfare such as Highway 1 or in plain view of people eating in restaurants. In order to maintain our public areas free from activities which may be offensive to many people, including children, it is our recommendation the attached ordinance be enacted."

The nudity ordinance attracted much attention Monday from Bay Area media.

Television crews were sweeping the beaches, looking for surfer indiscretions and interviewing swimmers. The police department fielded multiple calls from the media throughout the day.

Most members of the media covering the story eventually descended upon Nick Gust at his restaurtant. "Everybody has been here," said Gust, chuckling over the attention and listing the newspaper and television reporters who came to Nick's. "I never thought something like this would generate such interest."

Gust said that television and print journalists called for comments on the nudity ordinance, some telling him they thought it would become a major story and that Pacifica would be touted as a leader in banning nudity on the coast.

Diane Ceravolo, the city's director of general services, said Monday she was awakened at her home in San Jose by a radio report about Pacifica's modesty efforts. "We were just changing some language to make people a little more modest," said Ceravolo. "It's been blown all out of proportion."

Asked for a comment about the nudity topic, as it perhaps related to tourism, Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Loyle Mueller said, with tongue firmly in cheek, "I'd like to apply for the position of enforcement officer."

Monday night, the council also heard from several surfing enthusiasts, including one who jokingly volunteered to demonstrate his quick-change technique for the council. (He did change in the parking lot for the media.) There was concern expressed that the ordinance would further divide the community when it comes to attitudes about surfers.

Surfer Greg Cochrane, however, said surfers had no problem with the intent of the decency ordinance, but urged the city to enforce other important health and safety laws dealing with public drunkenness, broken bottles on the beach and underage drinking.

"I don't have a problem with the ordinance, but am troubled by the image of surfers dropping their drawers and parading all over town," said Pacifica surfer Izzy Szczepaniak. "This ordinance is kind of directed at surfers.

Let's not make pretenses. I find it ironic we're passing another ordinance when we don't have enough money to fund police officers," said Szczepaniak, noting he personally avoids the deteriorating restrooms at the beach in Linda Mar. "I'd rather go home," he commented.

"I have been surfing since 1990 and I've only seen two bare butts," said Barbara Parker, candidly, who was upset the item had not been scheduled on the agenda in time for notification in the Pacifica Tribune. Even Councilmember Cal Hinton said he had not heard of it until he received his council packet last Friday.

"I don't know what kind of message this ordinance would put out, but there needs to be public input," said Parker.

Councilmember Hinton said he worried about the nearby senior apartment complex and daycare facility, noting some surfers do ignore the changing facilities that exist.

"I commend those who do disrobe discreetly. It's the few who are creating the difficulty," he said. "This is not designed to be a sweeping crusade against nudity, but a tool that can be used by police. Maybe if people realize there may be a $100 fine, they may correct their ways."

The ordinance, approved by a 3-1 vote with Councilmember Dorothy Edminster abstaining, (Peter DeJarnatt was the only councilmember to oppose it), will go into immediate effect since the council waived the first reading of the ordinance.

Violations of the ordinance will be an infraction, subject to up to a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $500 for the third offense.

"I don't like unenforceable laws," said DeJarnatt, who felt that the vast majority of beachgoers were discreet in their changing. He suggested instead the city post signs directing people to the changing facilities.

"Given the cuts to the Police Department I don't want the police officers we have spending time on this which could detract from something else," he said. Merritt later conceded issuing citations would be at officer discretion, adding it would not be the highest priority.

While Edminster did not explain why she abstained, she did give indication of her attitude by an earlier rhetorical question. She asked Merritt how many complaints the police department had received this past year, expressing surprise when told there were only six.

"Only six and we're going to have an ordinance?" she said.