Court upholds Incline Village beach restrictions
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – Not all residents have the same privileges to access beaches owned by the Incline Village General Improvement District at Lake Tahoe, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected an appeal filed by Frank Wright, a Crystal Bay resident who argued his exclusion from the beaches is unconstitutional.
The IVGID acquired Burnt Cedar Beach, Incline Beach, Ski Beach and Hermit Beach more than 40 years ago, and all bond payments were made by residents who lived within the district at that time.
A restrictive covenant limits access to those beach areas to people who live within the 1968 boundary, even though the district has since expanded and includes Wright’s residence.
The appeals judges said the beaches are not a “traditional public forum,” and the restrictions are constitutional.
The decision upholds a lower court ruling by U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks in Reno, who earlier sided with the improvement district by granting it summary judgment in the case before trial.
According to court documents, Wright maintained that the beaches are a traditional public forum. He said IVGID opens the beaches to the general public for fireworks on the Fourth of July and allows its employees access even if they do not live within the district’s 1968 boundary.
He said his exclusion from the beaches violates his rights under the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
His suit targeted one ordinance that limits use of the beaches to recreation and cites the deed restrictions that says “parcels annexed to the district after May 30, 1968, are not eligible for district beach access.”
“Ordinance 7 expressly references the restrictive covenant,” the ruling said. “The fact that only owners of the portions of the 1968 property paid for the purchase and improvement of the beaches also strongly supports Ordinance 7’s reasonableness.”
Wright also challenged a policy that says certain walkways and sidewalks within the 43-year-old boundaries are public forums, while specifically stating that the beaches are not.
But the panel rejected his arguments, determining the beaches are not a “traditional public forum,” and that laws allow restrictions.
The decision cited other court rulings that said the First Amendment does not guarantee access to property simply because it is owned or controlled by the government, and that government can limit use of properties under its control “to the uses to which the properties are fully dedicated.”
“Although persons who are lawfully granted access to the beaches may swim, play games, rest and enjoy the surroundings at the beaches as they could at a typical public park, the properties here are not ordinary beaches,” the ruling said, noting that gates and kiosks separate the restricted beaches from public areas and “clearly indicate to the public that the beaches are not intended for the exercise of First Amendment rights.”
“The beaches are a special enclave, subject to greater restriction on access than the parking lots and other areas surrounding the beaches,” the ruling said.
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