Walton County Customary Use in the News

Discussion in 'Local Government and Groups' started by Teresa, Sep 9, 2018.

  1. Teresa

    Teresa SoWal Guide Staff Member

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    Tampa Bay Times
    9/9/18

    Hundreds pack meeting on beach access in Florida Panhandle
    The issue of 'customary use' becomes part of the political dialogue in the 2018 election.

    SANTA ROSA BEACH — Hundreds of people crowded into a high school auditorium Saturday for an emotional meeting in the ongoing political struggle over public access to the Panhandle's pristine beaches.

    The crowd of 800-plus at South Walton High School and the intensity of views were the latest signs of how strongly people feel about this quality-of-life issue after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that makes it harder for cities and counties to pass local laws protecting public beach access.

    The law (HB 631), which attracted little public attention in the 2018 session of the Legislature, is seen as a direct response to Walton County's adoption last year of a beach access law that has been challenged unsuccessfully by private property owners.

    "I believe the notion of a 'private beach' is an oxymoron," said Dave Rauschkolb, a Seaside restaurant owner and a leader in the battle to preserve public access to beaches, known as customary use.

    Josephine Brown, 92, of Seagrove Beach, wearing a sticker that said "CU at the beach," said her family has been enjoying the beaches of South Walton for six generations with no problems until now.

    "We had bonfires. We camped out," Brown testified. "Those days are gone forever, but still, we would like to maintain a little bit of that personal closeness that we always had with the beach."

    Lynn Fitzgerald, who has owned a home on Miramar Beach since 1994, said her property deed, like many, extended to the mean high tide water line but that "we never had a problem." Making things worse, she told officials, is the proliferation of commercial vendors renting out beach chairs and umbrellas to sunbathers.

    Asked about the governor, she said: "This is going to hurt him. It will also cause tourists to leave Destin and go to Orange Beach (Alabama)."

    Scott, who in July signed an executive order that sought to blunt the new law's enforcement, may hear from residents Sunday when he makes a campaign appearance at The Donut Hole in Santa Rosa Beach.

    Tom Ballantine, owner of a condominium complex at Seagrove, said: "I'm a Christian. God made the beach and it's open to all of God's people." He got a thunderous round of applause.

    Afterward, Ballantine said he did not think the controversy would have any effect on Scott's senatorial ambitions. "I really like Rick Scott," he said.

    Avalon Beach homeowner John Vundschow took a different view. He said a proposed new county customary use ordinance is an illegal taking of private property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    More than 5,000 people have joined a Facebook group, Walton County Ideas for Visioning and Quality of Life, where the beach access issue is by far the major topic of conversation.

    More than 7,000 residents have signed affidavits in support of a new county beach access law in an effort organized by a new non-profit group, Florida Beaches for All. The Walton County attorney, Sidney Noyes, said she was overwhelmed by the response.

    Saturday's meeting was to have been the first legal step by a Florida local government to comply with the new law.

    But the county discovered that 13 affected property owners did not receive legal notices of the meeting as required by law, which could put the county in legal jeopardy if it took any formal action. So a vote was postponed until November and county officials took public comment for nearly three hours instead.

    Walton County is solidly Republican, but in interviews, people at Saturday's meeting singled out Scott for criticism and said he should not have signed the bill into law. In casual conversations, people dressed in tropical shirts and flip-flops toss around "HB 631" like an epithet.

    Mike Hepner, a Miramar Beach X-ray technician who wore a "UNF Ospreys" T-shirt (his daughter is a student there) and is a registered independent voter, said he's less likely to vote for Scott because of his decision to sign HB 631.

    "Definitely," Hepner said. "I believe the beaches were put here by God for our use and we want to keep it that way. I will vote for people who are for keeping customary use."

    https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2018/09/09/hundreds-pack-meeting-on-beach-access-in-florida-panhandle/
     

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  2. Jenksy

    Jenksy Beach Fanatic

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    :doh:
     
  3. Teresa

    Teresa SoWal Guide Staff Member

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    NPR | 9/10/2018
    Private Beaches In Florida Spark Battle With Residents And County


    [​IMG]

    Santa Rosa Beach in Walton County, Florida with a privately-owned section that is part of Vizcaya, a residential development.

    Greg Allen/NPR
    Santa Rosa Beach, in Florida's Walton County, is a quiet place with sugar-white sand, a pleasant surf and signs warning visitors to stay out. The largely rural county on Florida's panhandle is at the center of a battle over one of the state's most precious resources: its beaches. Most of the 26 miles of beaches are already privately owned. As of July 1, homeowners with beachfront property in Walton County can declare their beach private and off limits to the public. The new law has sparked a standoff between wealthy homeowners and other local residents.

    In Walton County and in Tallahassee, where Governor Rick Scott signed it into law, an earlier version of the bill was known as the "Huckabee amendment." Fox News commentator and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has a beachfront house in Santa Rosa Beach. Since the bill went into effect, opponents of the law have speculated about Huckabee's role in getting it passed.

    In January emails to Kathleen Passidomo, the bill's sponsor in Florida's Senate, Huckabee thanked her for helping protect property rights from what he called "'customary use' abuse."

    "Having grown up dirt poor in Arkansas, I never thought I would see saltwater in person, much less live on a beach," Huckabee writes. But he says he's been appalled on what he's found on his beach property. "I've found used condoms on my walk-down, glass bottles broken, dog feces, litter. Sharp tent poles that can cut bare feet and worse. Large tents with large groups with boom boxes make using my own property very difficult during high season."

    In a follow-up email, Huckabee accurately predicts a backlash to the law. "I'm certain there will be a flood of political pressure to stop your bill because there are only 900 beachfront owners and many of them only live part time there."

    That political pressure was on display this past weekend when Governor Scott, who's now running for the U.S. Senate, scheduled a campaign appearance at a donut shop in Santa Rosa Beach. About a dozen protestors concerned about beach access showed up and Scott's campaign changed its schedule, skipping the donut shop.

    The protests have been going on since shortly after the law went into effect. Last month, Daniel Uhlfelder was part of a group enjoying the sun and sand on a private beach in defiance of the law. They had just begun unfolding their chairs and putting up their umbrellas when Uhlfelder says a security guard hired by a nearby development told them they'd have to leave. "I said, 'We're not going to leave.' He called the police. The police came. The police took everyone's drivers' licenses and asked if we're leaving. We said, 'We're not leaving.'"

    Uhlfelder and other beach access activists are determined to challenge the new law. Up to now, their fight has been largely focused in Santa Rosa Beach at an upscale development called Vizcaya. Large houses overlooking the beach here rent for thousands of dollars a week. The president of the homeowners association, Bill Hackmeyer, says, "There are a lot of public beaches and there are a bunch of parks around here for the public. But there are some beaches like Vizcaya that are private beaches."

    Hackmeyer is a conservative and outspoken property rights advocate who on this day is wearing an Ayn Rand t-shirt. Because the beach here is privately owned, Hackmeyer says people who don't live in Vizcaya are legally only allowed on an area of wet sand near the water's edge. "People can walk up and down the wet sand and they can sit on the wet sand," Hackmeyer says. "They can't sit on the dry sand."

    When they do, it's considered trespassing. The homeowner association's security guard asks them to move. If they don't, he calls the sheriff's department. Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson says his deputies explain the law and, when necessary, ask beachgoers to move to a public beach. Despite demands from Hackmeyer and other homeowners, no arrests have been made. Adkinson says, "No one has (gone) to jail in Walton County for trespassing on the beach ever."

    Like Daniel Uhlfelder and other open beach activists, local county officials don't like the new law. For more than a century, the public enjoyed largely unrestricted access to the beaches in Walton County. County attorney Sidney Noyes says, under a legal concept known as "customary use," it doesn't matter who owns the beach. "If we can establish that the public has customarily used the beach," she says, "the idea is that the beachfront property owner cannot exclude the public as long as the public is using it for traditional recreational uses."

    Over the last decade, big changes have come to this quiet stretch of the Florida panhandle. The area has caught the eyes of developers and wealthy buyers looking for a beachfront getaway, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and GOP political consultant Karl Rove. More and more "private beach" signs have sprouted at new developments in Walton County. Some even have erected fences and gates on their beaches.

    For County Administrator Larry Jones, it's a troubling trend. Preserving public access to beaches he says is at the heart of the local economy. "Simply put, the beach is the attraction," Jones says. "It's a multimillion proposition that brings thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs, three million tourists a year that spend an awful lot of money here." To protect its economic interests, the county passed an ordinance asserting the public's right to access private beaches. In response, wealthy homeowners pushed for a bill that was approved by the state legislature, essentially undoing the county law.

    The county is now holding hearings and writing a new ordinance establishing the public's right to use private beaches. But it's likely to take many months and face legal challenges. In the meantime, activists like Rachel Reichenbach say they'll keep pressuring the state to repeal the law and open the beaches to all. She says, "This is important not only for our access as people to our beaches that we've always had access to, but it's critical for our economy."

    For Florida Governor Rick Scott, who signed the bill into law, it's also become a political issue. Scott is running for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Nelson was on Santa Rosa Beach last month, calling on the Governor to convene a special session of the legislature to fix a law that's now a hot button issue on the Florida panhandle.

    https://www.npr.org/2018/09/10/634666036/private-beaches-in-florida-spark-battle-with-residents-and-county
     
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  4. Jenksy

    Jenksy Beach Fanatic

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    It's clear that Huckabee built his house in the wrong place. He is encouraged to move on. Find a place where he doesn't have to deal with riff raff. Or go back to Arkansas.

    Or maybe he attracts the riff raff.
     
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  5. Beauford

    Beauford Beach Lover

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    Find Your Perfect Beach: A Tale of Poor Planning for Customary Use on 30A
    July 27, 2018 · by Gayla Schaefer, MPA

    By now, you have heard people grumbling about Rick Scott signing the Private Beach Anti-Customary Use Law (HB631) this year.

    The new law has opened a can of worms that may take years to sort out. It has also laid bare some of the state’s most inept leaders and corrupt political missteps to finally wake panhandle voters from their slumber.

    Since July 1st, when the law took effect and nullified Customary Use ordinances passed after 2016, rural leaders in Walton County have been scrambling to deal with the effects of the law. Those effects range from tourism crushing articles about grumpy rich locals littering the county’s only attraction with Keep Off My Lawn signs, to beachfront owners calling the sheriff on tourists sitting in their sand, to a useless Executive Order signed by Scott to save face, to a viral video of deputies drawing a line in the wet sand, and the end of trash collection on the newly minted “private” beaches of South Walton.

    For a county where fickle tourists provide $4.4 billion in annual economic impact and 65% of all area taxes, and where the beach is a way of life, anger at Rick Scott and the elected leaders responsible for the law has been intense. And, it has spread to beach towns across Florida concerned about the impact of this particular Pandora’s Box.

    “In Florida, as the Florida Supreme Court has recognized, customary use rights arise where the public’s use has been ancient, reasonable, without interruption, and free from dispute. – Surfrider Foundation

    The issue is as complicated as it is simple.

    Simply put, planned communities do not exist in a vacuum. Not even resort communities. They require buy-in and support from existing local politicians and stakeholders as part of a long range comprehensive plan. And, residents in and around booming new communities filling with wealthy, well-connected new neighbors need better representation than county leaders alone can provide.

    But, to really understand the issue, one must delve far deeper in the politics of the region once known as the Redneck Riviera.

    Having just made the map 30 years ago because of their squeaky clean beaches and New Urbanist design, South Walton County was woefully unprepared for the Carl Hiassen-worthy karmic irony it now finds itself facing thanks to Rick Scott and a handful of very well connected beachfront owners....
     
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  6. L.C. Bane

    L.C. Bane Beach Fanatic

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    Maybe they will prove me wrong but its looking more and more like this is over our BCC's head. I don't know if they are up to the David and Goliath challenge. It's probably a win/win situation for them locally. They will be able to say they "fought the good fight against insurmountable odds" no matter the outcome.
     
  7. Lake View Too

    Lake View Too SoWal Insider

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    Yes, I feel exactly the same way. I hate to say it, but this affidavit campaign, however sincere and heartwarming, is simply a big security blanket. I doubt they are significant in a court of law.
     
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  8. boomerang

    boomerang Beach Lover

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    I agree - Walton County could have chimed in on the quiet titles, and quickly passed another customary use ordinance.

    They can not even notice the hearing correctly.

    And they are not proving each and every parcel as required in 631.

    We need to repeal 631.
     
  9. Teresa

    Teresa SoWal Guide Staff Member

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    It appears that the affidavits are to be used as evidence of customary use of our beaches over the years in general. To affirm Customary Use and vote on a new ordinance .. It is just the beginning of the legal process as required. Walton County and the community have collected over 8000 with many more coming in. At the very least, this process helps raise awareness and get locals and visitors involved directly. Repeal of HB631 may be preferable. But meanwhile the county must move forward with the legal steps. It's painfully slow. But this is what we were dealt. Thanks Mike Huckabee and Rick Scott and the like.
     
  10. boomerang

    boomerang Beach Lover

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    Walton County affidavits don't spell out each parcel - and i fear a judge will have his hands tied -

    we need decent legal opinion on this
     
  11. James Bentwood

    James Bentwood Beach Fanatic

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    Surely there's a DC lawfirm that will take it on pro bono. Needs to go to US Supreme Court.
     
  12. lazin&drinkin

    lazin&drinkin Beach Lover

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    9 years ago, I was driving in DFS en route to my first BCC meeting, with a friend in the passenger seat. We passed a sign advertising a coming exhibit—Revisiting The History of Great Moments in Walton County Government.

    I scoffed. “That ought to take no more than 5 minutes. Want to see it while it’s here next month?

    My friend never missed a beat. “Why in God’s name would you want to see it twice?"
     
  13. Emerald Drifter

    Emerald Drifter Beach Fanatic

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    Perhaps every March 23rd (the date that Scott signed 631) we should have a beachfront festival on the beach in Blue Mountain behind a certain BFO's house. Advertise like its Coachella/Burning Man (or Woodstock for some of you :)). Get the Grateful Dead (Deadheads) types to camp out. Renaissance Faire types too. Live bands, fireworks, live animals, beach vendors (we know they are approved). No glass bottles please and of course, leave no trace.

    Of course I'm joking but one can dream...
     
  14. Truman

    Truman Beach Fanatic

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    Sounds like every weekend on Grayton Beach.
     
  15. Teresa

    Teresa SoWal Guide Staff Member

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    https://www.floridaphoenix.com

    Citizens rising up against the Florida Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott, and private property zealots

    By
    Julie Hauserman
    September 17, 2018
    [​IMG]
    Cartoon by Andy Marlette, Pensacola News Journal
    There’s a citizen uprising happening in the Panhandle’s Walton County. So far, about 8,000 people have signed sworn affidavits asserting that they use the beaches there. Probably not a single one of them thought they’d have to sign a legal document to prove they go to the beach – in their beach town.

    About the biggest regional controversy used to be whether you ought to wear closed-toe shoes instead of flip flops to a wedding.

    That was before Walton County got discovered by the mega-mansion crowd. So now, the grassroots effort to save the best of a good Florida place has begun. Because of an obnoxious law passed by the state Legislature (which targets Walton County specifically), locals are now fighting for public access to beaches they’ve enjoyed for generations.

    “I moved here when I was six years old,” says Walton County Commissioner Tony Anderson. “My mama was an avid pompano fisherman. I have chased sand fleas up and down this beach. I’ve literally walked all 26 miles of beach here in my 63 years. I’ve crabbed, fished, and camped.”

    A recent county commission meeting to discuss the issue was filled to bursting – some 800-1,000 attended. Residents have formed a new nonprofit group, Florida Beaches for All and a slogan #StandYourSand.

    The troublesome state beach access law at issue was pushed by some Gulf-front property owners, including, as it turns out, a famous one: former Arkansas governor, past presidential candidate and Fox News darling Mike Huckabee.

    Huckabee has a house on the beach in Walton County, and he doesn’t want the riff-raff in front of his place, playing Frisbee, letting their dogs run around, and hanging beach towels on his sand fence, he explained in an email he sent to a Republican South Florida state senator who helped push the bill, Kathleen Passidomo. Huckabee explains he’s just spent 18 hours flying back from Qatar (I’d like to know quite a bit more about that), but monitored the legislative committee meeting on the Internet and wants to thank her for the beach access bill.

    About that bill – which became law July 1. You may remember the viral video this summer which showed a couple of Walton County sheriff’s deputies trying to show a beachgoer where he was allowed to sit on the beach. They literally had to draw a line in the sand. The beachgoer was local attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, who set up chairs in front of a condo complex, and someone called the Walton Sheriff’s Department. Deputies told Uhlfelder and his friend they were trespassing. Uhlfelder and one of the deputies walked towards the Gulf and drew a line. The “public” area they identify is in the wet sand along the wave break line – pretty much in the Gulf.

    Walton County Sherriff Mike Adkinson told the Phoenix that he doesn’t want to arrest beachgoers, and that the Legislature needs to fix the confusing new state law ASAP. “It puts us in a horrible situation,” he said.

    The trouble goes back a few years, when some Walton County waterfront homeowners started putting up ‘No trespassing’ signs to keep regular people from sitting on the beach in front of their condos and houses. This was a shock to locals. Florida has long abided by “customary use” of our beachfront, meaning folks have been using the beaches for decades. Most Florida counties have a customary use law to ensure public access, but Walton County didn’t, so the county commission passed one in mid-2016.

    That’s when private-property-rights zealots hired lobbyists to go to the Legislature to circumvent the local county commission’s wishes. They ended up with the stealthy H.B. 631, which passed during the 2018 legislative session and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law.

    The law put a target on Walton County’s back, because it said any county that had a customary use law in effect on or before January 2016 could keep its law, and thus keep the status quo allowing public beach access. Except Walton County hadn’t passed its law by that date, and those pushing to close public beach access knew that. Walton County was now purposefully teed up to be a property rights test case.

    “I’m very offended that Walton County was singled out,” Commissioner Anderson says. “This is just a disaster for Walton County. We have four million visitors a year. We’ve heard about visitors who came this year and were treated shabbily and they are not coming back.”

    When news of the new law went public, Gov. Scott – Oh He of the Election-year Environmental Awakening – issued an Executive Order which “urges counties to protect public beach access.”

    Except Scott’s executive order is not a law, so it doesn’t count. “Unfortunately the governor can’t nullify the law,” explained Sheriff Adkinson.

    Scott – who is running for U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson – hilariously ducked out of his own campaign stop Sept. 9 at a Walton County restaurant after his jittered staffers saw some gray-haired protesters waiting. “He’s scared of little old ladies in tennis shoes,” one of the sign-holders told the Tampa Bay Times. One protest sign which must have peeved the Scott camp: “Republicans for Bill Nelson.”

    Now a new chapter in the fight for Walton County beaches begins: In November, the Walton County Commission plans to vote on a new customary use ordinance, to try to put things back the way they were before the Legislature and Gov. Scott mucked them up. The lawsuits against Walton County from the property rights camp will begin again, and the county will have to pay handsomely to defend its right to keep public access on beaches.

    “It’s going to be expensive, but it’s going to be more expensive to lose this case. Losing access to our beaches could be a total meltdown of our economy,” Commissioner Anderson says.

    There’s a lot to unpack in the whiny email that Huckabee sent to the state legislator, begging her for help to keep the plebeians away from his castle, but I’ll share a few choice nuggets:

    “This,” he writes, “should not be a political decision based on popularity…” (just let that sink in for a minute, all you non-monarchs) “but a legal decision based on the Constitutional premise of private property rights, the very foundation of liberty.”

    Huckabee explains that he grew up “dirt poor” in Arakansas, and “never thought I would see salt water in person, much less live on a beach.” He says he gives to church, and to charity “and certainly to Walton County!”

    His beef, he explains, is that beachfront owners are “demonized as ‘greedy, selfish, and rich’ owners who want to deprive the poor of their rights.”

    Lemme think a minute. Do they have that old saying in Arkansas? The one about the pot and the kettle? I think they do.

    Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book - Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles - comes out this fall.

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  16. bob bob

    bob bob Beach Fanatic

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    And yet his neighbors' beaches remain clean and treated with respect.... hmmmm.
     
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