Battle Over Beach Access Heats Up
By Howard Schwach
The rules for the use of our parks are stated in a 48-page "Green Book." Since our ocean beaches are considered City parks, the rules apply to our beaches as well, says Parks supervisor Joe Bonkowski.
"People have to understand that the beaches are city parts, subject to all of the rules of any other park anywhere in the city," Bonkowski says. "While there may be some question of when you can walk on the beach, the rules clearly limit fishing and surfing."
The rules in the Green Book are clearly, if redundantly stated:
"Persons may enter and use the parks from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., unless other open hours are posted at the park."
"No person shall enter or remain in any park without the express permission of the Commissioner when the park is closed to the public."
"No person shall fail to comply with or obey any instruction, direction, regulation, warning or prohibition, written or printed, displayed or appearing on any park sign…"
"No person shall engage in fishing except at such places and times and under such conditions as designated by the Commissioner."
Parks Department officials say that many of these rules have been in place since 1850.
Many Rockaway residents, however, say that the rules have never been enforced and that using the beach for recreation at "off-hours" is the major reason they live in Rockaway.
"Some of the things that make living in Rockaway great, such as surfing, walking on the beach late in the evening, taking long bike rides on the boardwalk, fishing off the jetties, now earn you a summons, a fine, and a day in court," says one local surfer at Beach 88 Street who asked not to be identified. "The new captain wants to make points with his bosses and the city wants to make money on the backs of middle class people who just want to use the facilities that God put here for us to use."
Captain Charles Talamo, the commanding officer of the 100 Precinct in Rockaway Beach, disagrees. In a prepared statement requested by The Wave, the captain says that he has received many requests from community members and from politicians to aggressively police the beach and boardwalk.
"Issues of concern expressed by residents include parking, dogs, bicycles, cans, bottles, garbage, noise and alcohol, as well as marijuana use on the beach," he says. "In a dedicated effort to keep our community safe, and to maintain the quality of life standards, these citizens of Rockaway demand, and most assuredly deserve, the police officers from the 100 Precinct at my assistance aggressively police our community, attacking the complete spectrum of public safety hazards from the most minor quality of life violations to the most serious felony."
The "C" summonses given out by the police are not for specific activities, such as fishing or surfing – or, walking on the beach after 10 p.m. Rather, they are for failure to obey the signs posted at the beach.
Police officers who regularly work the beach beat say that the rules are necessary to crack down on loud parties on the beach, drug use and other illegal behavior.
Others say they go too far.
The New York City Surfrider Foundation has involved itself with the issue.
Robert Bailey, the president of the organization, says that he and his members will try to "open the beaches" for those who want to surf and fish.
"We have been working with officials to reach an agreement on beach access for surfers and other ocean enthusiasts," Bailey told The Wave. "It is imperative that this be resolved to the mutual benefit of all of the parties prior to September, when the lifeguards go off duty."
The organization is surveying the municipal codes of beachfront communities along both coasts to see how they handle the problem.
Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14, would like to see a compromise made as well.
"Safety is always our paramount concern," says Gaska. "There must be a way, however, to strike a balance between code enforcement and recreational needs. I don’t think that you have too many people complaining about people walking on the beach after 10 p.m."
For now, the strict enforcement of existing rules will continue.
Talamo says that it is up to our legislators to change the rules, not up to police to decide which rules to enforce aggressively and which not to enforce.
"If the citizen’s don’t like the law," he says, "there are legislative means for them to change those laws."
The last version of the Green Book was written nearly five years ago. Officials at Parks Department say that there are no plans to update the book.