8. A Line in the Sand
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120 chapter 8 A Line in the Sand The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. All through the long history of Earth it has been an area of unrest where waves have broken heavily against the land, where the tides have pressed forward over the continents, receded and then returned. For no two successive days is the shoreline precisely the same. Not only do the tides advance and retreat in their eternal rhythms, but the level of the sea itself is never at rest … Today a little more land may belong to the sea, tomorrow a little less. Always the edge of the sea remains an elusive and indefinable boundary. —Rachel Carson, from “The Edge of the Sea,” 1955 While Bob Straub was assembling his revolutionary plan to put state trust funds into the stock market, he continued to press the new governor, Tom McCall, on environmental issues, sparking controversy and enlivening Oregon political life. As the two men grappled with one another, they propelled Oregon’s environmental movement forward at an increasingly rapid pace. When Tom McCall was sworn in as governor in Salem in January of 1967, few people suspected that, due to the beachfront property claims of a Cannon Beach hotelier, they were directly in the path of a tsunami that would crash over and swamp the coming legislative session, forever changing the course and the nature of Oregon politics. From that point forward , it became gospel for successful politicians to promise to vigorously protect Oregon’s natural beauty—and increasingly clear that an aroused public would organize itself to make certain that they made good on their promises. In the process, the rivalry between Tom McCall and Bob Straub would broaden and deepen as their creative competition for leadership pushed Oregon into the forefront of a growing national environmental movement. January of 1967 meant the renewal of another season of state legislative government. Farmers, businessmen, retirees, and housewives from around the state gathered for the once-in-every-two-years ritual of representative governance favored by Oregonians since statehood in 1859. The governor’s office, nearly always the leading force in the legislative agenda, had its set of pre-filed bills to pursue. Included on the governor’s agenda, and important A Line in the Sand 121 enough for Governor McCall to feature it in his inaugural address, was a piece of legislation later consolidated into House Bill 1601, which came to be known as the “Beach Bill.” Its significance would dwarf the arguments over the beach highway, riveting the public’s attention to the actions of the Oregon State Legislature, and raising direct citizen lobbying and correspondence to levels rarely, if ever, seen in Salem. The summer before, during the height of the 1966 gubernatorial race between McCall and Straub, a young graduate student in biochemistry named Lawrence Bitte was in Cannon Beach, enjoying a relaxing weekend digging clams and exploring the beach with his family and assorted other relatives, as was their custom. Bitte’s aunt came back to their beach house with an amazing story: she had tried to walk through an area of the dry sand beach in front of a rather nondescript motel and was told she was trespassing. It was then that she noticed that driftwood logs had been placed to form an informal fence, outlining a square in front of the Surfsand Motel. Larry Bitte went to see for himself and confirmed that her story was true. He was dumbfounded, having grown up in Oregon believing that the public had owned the beaches since the time of Governor Oswald West in the early 1900s.1 Bitte, an ornery cuss by nature, wouldn’t accept this land claim at face value, so he drove up to Astoria to check with the county clerk’s office about the Surfsand’s land claim. It turned out that Mr. William Hay did indeed own title to the land in front of his motel down to the sea. Bitte learned that Oregon’s 1911 law establishing the beaches as a state highway was limited to the wet sand portion of the beach, even though, by common practice, people had been using the dry sand up to the vegetation line without private Left to right: Secretary of State Clay Myers, Governor Tom McCall, Treasurer Bob Straub. Republicans McCall and Myers and Democrat Straub worked remarkably well together, serving as the state’s board of control. Photo by Gerry Lewin 122 Standing...


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