Legal fight is brewing over beach access |

Legal fight is brewing over beach access

Andrew Pridgen

INCLINE VILLAGE – A small group of Crystal Bay residents have sparked anew the issue of access to beaches owned and operated by the general improvement district here, circulating a petition this week and threatening litigation.

The Crystal Bay residents contend that members of Incline Village General Improvement District governing board, who uphold that beach access should be limited to most Incline residents, should recuse themselves from voting on the codicil of the district’s recreation pass policy that affects beach use.

The petition states:

“The Honorable Trustees of the Board of Trustees of said District, and each of them, to recuse themselves from any further participation nor voting on the Proposed Ordinance Number 7 on the Recreation Pass Policy, on the grounds that to further participate in any plan, action or vote on the District’s Beach Properties would be a violation of law.”

The lawsuit, some district officials and Incline residents say, is reminiscent of a suit filed in 2001 by then Cal-Neva resort owner Chuck Bluth, in an attempt to gain access to IVGID-owned beaches for Crystal Bay residents, including potential property or timeshare owners at the Cal-Neva.

Bluth’s group, 2001 Beach Access Inc., tried to argue IVGID’s 1968 deed restriction to IVGID beaches. A countersuit aimed at keeping local beach access restricted was also filed. Bluth’s suit was eventually dismissed.

Leading the countersuit effort was Incline resident, Maryanne Ingemanson, who since that time has gained notoriety as president of the League to Save Incline Assets. The group’s effort to question the way local property tax valuations are done reached the state supreme court. A decision on property tax valuations is predicted to come down this fall.

This week, Ingemanson noted the irony of having to start up a fight with Crystal Bay residents after working through the courts to defend their property tax rights.

“What’s that they say about no good deed going unpunished?” Ingemanson asked rhetorically.

IVGID staff this week said they will, again, fight to keep IVGID beaches private.

“We spent $250,000 defending the beach access issue and our position hasn’t changed,” IVGID general manager Bill Horn said.

Constitutional right?

Organizers of the Crystal Bay group said this iteration of the beach access issue will not present the same argument Bluth did five years ago.

When dissecting the language of the Crystal Bay property owners’ petition, it postulates IVGID trustees are in “violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and Article 4 Section 21 and Section 25 of the Nevada Constitution.”

If using the Constitution to protect beach access sounds like a tenuous connection, one needn’t look further than Leydon v. Town of Greenwich, Conn. (2001).

In 1995, Brendon Leydon, a Connecticut resident, filed suit after being denied access to the municipally held park called Greenwich Point. Leyden wanted to jog the beach area of the park, but was turned away from the park because of a town ordinance that denied access to non-residents.

Pursuant to the ordinance, a non-resident could only visit the beach when accompanied by a town resident, much in the way that IVGID beaches are run, supporters of the Crystal Bay petition said.

Leyton filed suit arguing that the park and beach were a traditional public forum open to all citizens.

The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with an Appellate Court decision that state residents may have access to the municipal park and beach. The Connecticut Supreme Court focused almost exclusively on the First Amendment argument that the beach was a traditional public forum.

The result was to allow access by nonresidents to the park and beach rendering the town ordinance unenforceable.

Lawsuits pending …

While the new group of Crystal Bay petitioners may be taking a different tack than Bluth did, those poised to take the fight to court once more feel the case, in any iteration, is a re-tread, but this time goodwill has been squandered.

“It’s another extortion attempt, we’ve been there, done that,” Ingemanson said. “It sounds to me as someone who wants something that belongs to someone else. The people in Incline Village are really past hurt, really extremely upset with the fact that we have tried to be good neighbors.

“They had a huge, huge problem in Crystal Bay with their utilities, they couldn’t get a decent shower – by merging with IVGID, in a very solid, good, well-written contract, Crystal Bay homes suddenly had power and water – at the end they were given, evidently, the right to use recreation facilities. There was never, ever any agreement that they could use the beaches.”

But Crystal Bay petitioners, led by Frank L. Wright, feel the beaches are their right, regardless of the current agreement with IVGID for other services.

“Basically there are two classes of people here in the eyes of some,” Wright said. “There are Incline residents with privileges and then there’s the rest of us. We all earn the same tax base and we all pay into the same general fund.

“I wrote a letter four years ago asking for a rebate on my taxes because I don’t have (beach access). This has gone on way too long. The board has two choices: They can grant access to beaches for all Incline and Crystal Bay residents, which would take no litigation; or, if they don’t do that (IVGID board members) are in violation of the public interest and they’ll have to face up to it in court and come clean.”

The issue

Both sides can agree the issue is a simple one.

“It sounds complicated, it isn’t,” Ingemanson said. “(These) Crystal Bay people think they have a Constitutional right. If you gave them what they want that doesn’t mean Reno couldn’t sue us or even Kings Beach. If they want to take that step again, they really have the possibility of suffering very bad consequences.”

Those on the other side also say the debate is simple, but with a different end result.

“The simple issue is (we’re) asking the (IVGID) board to act in a constitutional manner,” said Crystal Bay resident Ron Code.

Whether this fight does reach the court, some feel the “damage may already be done” and some of the goodwill between the neighboring lakefront communities could be fractured.

“If they’re going to threaten every five years, we can say that rec use facilities were never deeded,” Ingemanson said. “So if you want to sue us, we can remove all that from the table.”

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