Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Private Beach is Threatened

While the Texas Open Beaches Act (TOBA) made land along the shore "public property", a small section of beach in Galveston has remained private property since the enactment of TOBA in 1959. According to the Chronicle:
The Legislature approved the act guaranteeing public access to Texas beaches about the same time that Henry Peter Porretto Jr. purchased a small plot used as a playground that was auctioned by the Galveston school district.

Porretto acquired adjacent properties to create the 27-acre Porretto Beach, which became a thriving enterprise and fixture on the Galveston beach front.

Unlike other owners of beach-front property, Porretto claimed that deeds issued when Texas was part of Mexico give him ownership of land extending from the seawall into the Gulf of Mexico, including what the Texas General Land Office says is public beach.

The state has challenged this claim, and in 2002 Porreto sued the state to recognize his property rights. In March a judge ruled that the state had taken the land without just compensation and awarded Porreto $6.8 million. The state is appealing that decision.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson claims that the judge bowed to "hometown pressure" and believes that a ruling in favor of the Porreto family (Henry Porreto died in 2007) would harm the state:
Patterson acknowledges that the Porretto family owns land near the Seawall but objects to their argument that their title extends to submerged land. They say Texas laws don't apply because the titles were granted before Texas became a state.

Patterson says if the family wins, other property owners with similar titles will assert ownership in the Gulf. “It's a domino effect,” Patterson said. “Everyone can trace a title back to Mexico or the Republic of Texas.”

Patterson--who is a Republican--stands adamantly opposed to property rights. I do not know if his argument holds water legally, but morally it is a travesty. The Porreto family has a moral claim to the property--they have used it, and I assume paid taxes on it, for 50 years. This doesn't matter to Patterson, who wants to use government force to seize the land because the "public" has a "right" to beach access.

Patterson is hardly alone in this perverted view of rights. The Chronicle tells of a Houstonian visiting the island:
The broad, uncrowded expanse of sand and water attracted Dwayne Milton to the Texas Gulf Coast's only privately owned beach, tucked between public beaches at the east end of the Galveston Seawall.

“It just looked a little bit nicer,” said Milton, 50, who brought his family from Houston to Galveston for a weekend at the beach.

Like many tourists, Milton didn't know Porretto Beach was private. Once informed, his opinion changed. “It shouldn't be privately owned,” said Milton, vowing to use the neighboring city-operated Stewart Beach next time even though the city charges a dollar more to park.

Mr. Milton found the beach nicer, but for some unnamed reason doesn't want individuals owning beaches. Apparently, he believes that if wants to visit the beach nobody should stop him--he has a "right" to visit the beach and others, namely taxpayers, must satisfy his desires. And if that also means stealing 27 acres, so be it.

It is bad enough when someone must spend $3.5 million (that is how much the Porretos have spent on legal fees) to defend their property rights. It is even worse when government officials are the cause of that expense. The government should be defending the Porreto family, not trying to rob them.

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