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Deciphering the new L.A. beach ordinance (and yes, you can get fined for throwing a football)

It just looks so innocent...
It just looks so innocent...
Ron Almog/Flickr

What we’ve got here, to paraphrase the Captain from movie Cool Hand Luke, is a failure to communicate.

Like many of you, I was taken aback and more than a little perplexed by yesterday’s news claiming that Frisbee-tossing and football throwing had been deemed a fineable misdemeanor on L.A. County beaches over the summer months.

Doing my due diligence, my research included reading the entire 37-page ordinance explaining the various nuances of this new ban. Turning to Section 28, 17.12.150 on pg. 15, I read the following passage:

“A violation of this chapter is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000, and/or imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding 6 months.”

This is the magic passage that caught my eye. While it seemed excessive, it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility. Footballs and Frisbees are projectiles, and on a crowded beach could become quite dangerous.

Reading Section 49, 17.12.430 regarding ball-playing restrictions, it reads:

“It is unlawful for any person to cast, toss, throw, kick, or roll any ball, tube, or any light object other than beach ball or beach volleyball upon or over any beach, except for the following…”

It then lists a series of provisions making any of those non-beach ball/volleyballs OK to play with, including specially marked areas, permits, off-season, and more.

But digging deeper into the passage, the fine “not exceeding $1000” is specified for particular instances: nudity & disrobing (17.12.360) and operating “sail boards, kite boards, paddleboards, ocean kayaks, surf skis, rigid-hull surf-craft and similar objects” (17.12.460). 17.12.410 is also mentioned as a violation applicable to the above fine, but is not detailed in the actual ordinance.

Therein lies the rub. So what’s the penalty for throwing a damn football?!

That’s where L.A. County steps in, sending over an email today outlining the details of the ball throwing ordinance:

“The newly revised Beach Ordinance does not ban footballs, soccer balls, or Frisbees on L.A. County beaches.  Instead, the Ordinance provides a set of guidelines for safe ball playing at the beach.”

Which is not entirely true, if you read on to the next passage:

“Beachgoers may throw, kick, or roll any ball or light object on L.A. County beaches during the off-peak season between Labor Day and Memorial Day as long as persons or property are not endangered, and may do so year-round in established and/or designated areas or if they receive permission from the Department of Beaches and Harbors or a lifeguard.”

Which is really just another way of saying that all of the above are indeed forbidden during the actual summer months, or without a special permit. If I were to show up in July and started whipping a Frisbee around, I would be in violation of the ordinance.

But the question remains: what’s the fine for said violation?

“If the ball-playing code section is violated, the violation is an infraction punishable by a fine in accordance with California Government Code section 25132 as follows”, continues today’s email from L.A. County.

“(b) Every violation determined to be an infraction is punishable by (1) a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100) for a first violation; (2) a fine not exceeding two hundred dollars ($200) for a second violation of the same ordinance within one year; (3) a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500) for each additional violation of the same ordinance within one year."

A-ha! The truth is the light, and it’s getting rather bright around here. Too bad this info couldn’t have been included in the original ordinance, but hey: better late than never.

So there you have it: fun with language, omitted information and the self-righteous indignation that comes with all of it. In the end, we got to the truth, and I have the sweet privilege of being the slain messenger. Not bad for an unusually warm February day. I say a bunch of bloggers meet up on a nearby beach the day after Memorial Day for a game of touch football just to see what happens. Hey, it’s only $100, right?

And I didn’t even mention that it’s now illegal to dig a hole deeper than 18 inches in the sand of L.A. County beaches now, either. But I’m quite happy in the one I’m in now, so have at it.