Harris County today joined other public agencies and activists in urging the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider a recent opinion that critics contend blocks public access to most beaches on Galveston island.
County Attorney Vince Ryan filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of the county and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties. The brief supports a request by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for a rehearing on a Nov. 5 decision he says amounts to the overturning of the state Open Beaches Act, which voters made part of the Texas Constitution last year.
Similar briefs have been filed by the city of Galveston, environmental attorney Jim Blackburn and former legislator A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, who helped write the Open Beaches Act. Kendall County was expected to file an amicus brief today.
So far all the amicus briefs filed since Nov. 5 support the attorney general, who is defending Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in a lawsuit brought by San Diego attorney Carol Severance that led to the state Supreme Court decision.
Terry O’Rourke, first assistant Harris County attorney, said that every beach in Texas eventually will be hit by a storm.
“If you read the opinion as written, you are looking at the end of public beaches,” O’Rourke said.
The decision created private beaches on Galveston island and the frequency of storms eventually will render all public beaches private, O’Rourke says.
The vagueness of the decision allows beachfront property owners to point to the last storm and declare their beach private, Blackburn says in his brief.
I still don’t quite understand why the 2009 amendment that basically added the Open Beaches Act to the state constitution doesn’t moot this ruling, but clearly it didn’t, so here we are. I also still think that the best solution here is going to be a legislative one, perhaps another amendment, which ought to be doable given the support for overturning the Court’s decision from the likes of Patterson and Abbott. Someone will need to step up and sponsor a bill or joint resolution first, though.