Public beach, public access

Metro People on Bikes make there way down 8th Ave between Carolina Blvd and Oceon Blvd. Saturday, July 2, 2011, past vehicles parked on the side of the road as visitors to the beach at the Isle of Palms find places to park legaly. (Brad Nettles/ 7/2/11

When a visitor parks in front of a driveway in downtown Charleston, you expect the homeowner to call the police.

When visitors park in front of driveways at the Isle of Palms, some residents want to take away streetside parking.

Just as the public needs access to businesses, government and activities downtown, the public needs access to the beach at the Isle of Palms.

Despite what some Isle of Palms residents seem to think, the beach is the public’s, not theirs. The same principle of public access applies to most beaches across our state.

But in what has become an annual harangue, some residents went before City Council this week to complain about daytrippers. It is certainly annoying when visitors use residents’ property to hose off, dump trash and change clothes. And it can be dangerous when they park in front of fire hydrants and block driveways. Ask people who live in downtown Charleston. They’ll concur.

But the mindset appears to be different at the beach. Last year, residents had their own unofficial, but official-looking, No Parking signs made and planted them where they wanted.

It’s us against them. One citizen told council, “We live here. The citizens come first.”

Town Council’s role is to protect the quality of life for its citizens while still allowing public access to the beach.

This week, it allotted $15,000 for 19 signs to guide visitors to city pay parking in the commercial district. That’s a good move.

And last year it began selling season parking passes in lots for $45. That’s a reasonable step. But the fact is the commercial area is crowded, a problem for surfers and parents who must keep their children in clear view.

The Isle of Palms brings on extra police during the summer months. That, too, is a judicious thing to do. People who litter, trespass and park in front of driveways should be fined. Make the fines big ones to deter illegal behavior.

But residents are talking about closing some streets to parking altogether.

And while Mayor Dick Cronin says there is no plan to do that, it is alarming that a conversation about limiting beach access is even taking place.

The dialogue instead should be about how to accommodate the public while minimizing danger or damage to residents.