When you enjoy Oregon beaches you’re walking in shadows—yes, even on our precious sunny days. You’re walking in the shadows of those who fought to keep our shoreline open to all. Many Oregonians have helped protect what Governor Oswald West called our “great birthright”—chief among them West himself and one of his successors, Tom McCall.
McCall was governor from 1967 to 1975 and even if he had done nothing else during his eight years in office, he would have secured his legacy forever by his labors in the spring and summer of his first year on the job. That was when he seized his bully pulpit to give the Beach Bill new life after it had been buried in a legislative committee.
You may know the basics—how Governor West’s 1913 bill secured the wet sands portion of the beaches as a public highway, but by the 1960s, property owners had started to encroach into the dry sands area. A couple of who long enjoyed the beach in front of the Surfsand Motel and were distressed to find it blocked off by driftwood logs, a motel employee shooing them away.
McCall staged one of the most memorable photo-ops in Oregon history; some say the picture of him in his Pendleton jacket, jaw thrust forward, scowling at the Surfsand is the single most iconic photograph in Oregon history. The people won, the great birthright was preserved, and on July 7, 2017 (7-7-17), I hope you’ll join me, my friend and publisher Matt Love, and thousands of other Oregonians in what will be one of the great celebrations in Oregon history.
It’s great to celebrate the birthright, but we also have to be vigilant to protect it. We can imagine how awful it might have been if developers had been allowed to drive piles into the sands and place million dollar mansions, ticky-tack commercial development bringing candy shops and candle stores to the edge of the sea. We can also imagine how it could have been better—and still can be.
Earlier this year, Nestucca Spit Press published my utopian novel McCallandia. McCallandia imagines Tom McCall becoming Richard Nixon’s successor as president of the United States. It’s a new way to examine McCall the man, McCall the leader, the times he lived in, and what the unfulfilled possibilities were. When I was researching the book, I almost ached when I discovered we could have had a national Beach Bill.
Future Congressman Bob Eckhardt was a Texas state legislator in 1959 when the Lone Star state passed a beach bill that was one of the models for the Oregon law a few years later. Yes, Texas once had progressive leaders. When Eckhardt went to Washington at the end of the sixties, he introduced a national Beach Bill. The measure always died in committee, often not even getting a hearing. But suppose the president in the White House hadn’t been Nixon or Reagan? Suppose the president had been a man who cared deeply about preserving the environment, including the public’s right to access the beaches? Suppose the man in the Oval Office had been Tom McCall?
I had fun imagining McCall and Eckhardt working together on a Beach Bill. I hope you might have fun reading about that might-have-been. And I hope you’ll resolve to do what you can to make it happen someday. The leaders you choose at the local, state and national levels do make a difference. They work for all of us. We don’t have a Tom McCall anymore to warn us about “the grasping wastrels of the land.”
We don’t have another Tom McCall among us, so it’s up to us to follow in his footsteps to protect the birthright.
Bill Hall is a full-time Lincoln County Commissioner and part-time novelist. “McCallandia” is his first book.