My eleven-year-old and his gang of thugs are a bunch of scofflaws. Never mind that they are fabulous, sweet, smart, kind and hilarious, the lot of ‘em. To L.A. County they are lawbreakers. Their heinous crime: playing football on the beach.
The beach is the last free and public place. It’s no small thing to find a place where a gaggle of boys can run and be free. Soccer and LaCrosse and Baseball leagues compete for open fields. Our local park is fenced and locked when its field-time isn’t taken up by organized leagues. Birthdays at Laser Tag or Mini-Golf run into hundreds of dollars before anyone touches a bite of pizza or cake. But the beach belongs to all of us, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be on a gorgeous L.A. January day.
So for our son’s 11th birthday last month, we took twelve boys to the beach. We brought a small football, two umbrellas, a cooler of drinks and a tub of Double Bubble. Except for a lunch break at the public Annenberg Beach House’s Back on the Beach Café for mid-day sustenance, those kids played nonstop from 11:00 a.m. until we dragged the last of them away at 4pm. They ran, threw, tackled, dove, shouted and laughed on the wide white sands between the bike path and the Pacific. We had to call them back from the sand and their X and O formations to eat birthday cake. It was, for these athletic boys, heaven. Nothing but space and freedom. No coaches. No referees. No flags. Just them, their rules, their game.
One of my friends tells us her son can’t stop talking about how much fun it was – “the best birthday party ever.” How beautiful that it took so little for these kids to have a perfect day.
Imagine my shock to learn that L.A. County rules governing the beach make it “unlawful for any person to cast, toss, throw, kick or roll any ball, tube or any light object other than a beach ball or beach volleyball upon or over any beach….” Title 17.12.430. There’s been buzz about this lately, but when I looked into it, I discovered it’s nothing new. Actually, this language clarified a previous rule that prohibited throwing or tossing balls other than “inflatable rubber balls not less than 10 inches in diameter.” So it looks like the beach volleyball lobby is in cahoots with the Sups. But quit complaining, because the new rule carves out an exception for the off-season, September through May. This is progress.
The penalty for violating the rule is still a $1,000 fine. I wonder if the fine is per game or per person – twelve thousand dollars for a birthday beach football?
Why this rule at all? Maybe once a Supervisor got bonked in the head by a stray soccer ball, then instructed some deputy county counsel to do something about it. The poor gal (or fellow) sat, wrinkling her brow, conjuring a list of all the things a person might do with or to a ball. I can almost hear her mumbling to herself as she sat in her cubicle typing away: “Whoops – I almost forgot to prohibit ‘tossing.’ Some guy could argue he’s not throwing a ball to his toddler, he’s tossing it, but now we’ve got him both ways! Ooh – what about rolling? I nearly forgot! Everyone knows that rolling a ball is a real nuisance at the beach, unless it’s a volleyball or beach ball…obviously.”
The County has a right to make rules for good beach behavior. I’ll raise my hand in favor of the bans on spearfishing, oil pollution and smoking at the beach (cigarette butts being the number one trash item found in beach cleanups). But outlawing frisbees? Prohibiting holes deeper than 18 inches? Where’s the fun there?
Now that everyone’s aware of these rules, the County may need to tell that deputy county counsel to get ready for a lawsuit on behalf of all the Frisbee and football and rugby players. I’m thinking denial of equal protection. I’d love to hear the state explain its legitimate interest in restricting the rights of those who like to throw, toss or roll an oblong ball, or plastic disc, or try to answer a judge’s query: “What if you play soccer with a volleyball? Or volleyball with a soccer ball? Is that allowed?”
Those of you who want the freedom to toss, throw, kick or roll whatever kind of ball you happen to have in the car trunk when you head to the waves, pay attention: Your time is now. Occupy the beach. Draw your line in the sand.