.Take a Hike with Richard Stockton

… think outside, no box required.

The French supercentenarian Jeanne Louise Calment was not just alive at 122, she thrived.

 “I’ve only got one wrinkle and I’m sitting on it,” she said.

Today I hike with my French connection Laurence Bedford, songwriter Rick Zeek and our El Jefe, the 85-year-old Sleepy John Sandidge.

Sleepy John says, “Dying is not an option. I don’t have the budget.” Sleepy John is a hiking inspiration to celebrate age pride. He says, “Aging is not contagious, everyone’s got it.”

Rio del Mar Trail, get your Vitamin Sea

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This is a beach walk, and you’ll appreciate it if you remember to bring shades or a hat. The sun gives life, and it takes it away. I used to wear sunblock to keep from getting wrinkled. Now I wear sunblock to keep from looking homeless.

Synchronicity strikes when my three boys decide to hike the Rio del Mar Beach, because I follow the shenanigans of the Rio del Mar Homeowners Association, who have illegally blocked off the public path in front of their rental houses so they can advertise that they offer a private beach. We park in the free parking spaces in front of The Pixie Deli.

I always thought that as I aged, I would become more of an activist. Turns out I just get crankier. My tee shirt should say, “I’m flabby on the outside, crabby on the inside.” Friedrich Nietzsche said that hiking is a political act. Today his idea turns out to be a little too on the nose.

We start walking south, right past the disputed public walkway that the Rio del Mar HOA is trying to rip off. The rental houses look empty, we’re the only ones on the path. The boys walk ahead of me and then head to the surf. I’m meandering along the pathway, snapping photos of the erosion from the last flood, taking pictures of the real estate rental signs. I hear someone behind me.

“Who are you?”

I turn to see a well-dressed, 60-something lady. She is livid. Eyes red. She hisses,

“Who are you?”

“Oh. Hi. I’m Richard Stockton.” I extend my hand.

She does not look at my hand. She steps closer.

 “Who are you?”

I am pretty sure I had covered that but get the idea she means something different. She takes a step closer.

“Who are you and what do you think you’re doing here?”

“I’m walking on a public path.”

“This is a private path. That’s why there are barriers.”

“You mean the barriers that the California Coastal Commission ordered the HOA to take down. Why do you think you can deny my use of this path?”

“It’s in the judgment.”

Of course. My new Karen friend is talking about a 2022 civil court ruling that said the City of Santa Cruz does not own the path. However, as Lisa Haage of the Coastal Commission pointed out, “It’s not relevant who owns the walkway.”

Indeed, since the California Coastal Act of 1972, the Coastal Commission has the state-mandated power to make sure everyone has access to the beach. I attended that December 14,2023 Commission hearing when the board adopted all five resolutions by the staff by unanimous vote and ordered the Rio del Mar HOA to cease and desist with the encroachment of the pathway and pay $4.8 million in penalties.

My Karen snaps, “Where do you live?”

“I live in Santa Cruz. Where do you live?”

She takes a deep breath and steps back. Of course, she’s an out-of-town investor.

“So, you don’t live here.”

“I am an owner.”

“And you’re mad that I’m using this public pathway.”

“It’s not public. What are you doing here?”

“I write for Good Times Weekly Santa Cruz.”

She flinches and takes a step back. I am emboldened.

“I’m just doing my job… to report why you think I can’t walk here.”

“It’s in the judgment.”

“OK. I’m sure you want me to disappear, but we both know that’s not going to happen. What should I do here? How do you want me to do my job?”

She takes another step back, her lips tight, fists clenched.

“Read the judgment.”

“I have read the court’s judgment, and it does not refute the Coastal Commission’s authority to keep this path open. If you really believe that I am trespassing, let’s call the police.”

I hold up my phone. The woman glowers, spins away and stomps off.

When I catch up with the boys, they ask me who my new friend is. We discuss how the mechanics of capitalism works to take away our very access to the ocean. We have been pushed to the left edge of America, as far as we can go. We have no choice, this is where we make our stand. This beach is our Normandy.

I say, “But I will not denigrate the intelligence of the Rio del Mar housing investors who claim that the California state beach access law does not apply to them. Denigrate means ‘to put down.’”

Laurence Bedford gets excited about investigating the people who own these rental houses and we form a detective agency. That night Laurence texts me that of every house owner he has tracked so far, none lives in Santa Cruz.


  1. Wow, what a negative article. I wish I hadn’t read it. This is not the Good Times I know and love.

    Richard Stockton was behaving so aggressively with this woman. He should be able to write an article about the subject without turning it into a negative rant.

    Who is worse, the wealthy “Karen” property owner or the abusive “trail cop” Richard Stockton, who is convinced he has the authority to do and say whatever he wants based on his interpretation of the “law”.

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  2. Karen Hoa is in the wrong, she knows it, if you allow this you will also allow the closure of other pathways, it’s a domino effect.

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  3. Well, this was a disappointing article. Waste of time to read. I was hoping for a new hike, not a negative commentary.

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  4. I’m a former journalist and I applaud the way Richard Stockton reacted to Karen HOA. She harrassed him. She tried to bully him. He replied knowledgably about the Coastal Commission decision. The non-resident wall builders can lawyer-up but they are in the wrong, like other wealthy landowners attempting to deny access to our coast.

    I live a couple of blocks from Steamer Lane. I take our dog to Its Beach, and love taking friends from out of town on walks along West Cliff Drive. Our ocean front is a treasure to share with all. In case it’s not clear I have zero sympathy for the Rio Del Mar HOA. Go Richard!

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  5. Bravo Richard! Thank you for the informative article about what’s going on down in Rio Del Mar. Looking forward to more hiking adventures!

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  6. Thank you Richard! We need to protect our coastal access from these entitled out-of-town speculators. Speaking of Karen’s, there seems to be many posting here! I suppose some beach parties are in order!

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  7. Richard’s access to the coast and the beach is NOT being denied. It’s easily accessed on either side of those barricades… and that walkway has been privately owned and maintained for decades. What an aggressive and negative article. And no, I do not have any ownership interest in this development. I just had hoped to read about a fun place to hike. Sorry I read this and sorry he felt the need to turn a name into an adjective.

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  8. Bravo Richard. Love this article made me laugh. I appreciate you challenging the ridiculousness of the HOA taking away public access to a public beach. Come on people let’s be more friendly. Don’t let your privilege dominate how you live on this beautiful planet we all share. No one owns the Earth.

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  9. Thank you, Richard! Equitable coastal access is so important to this county and the state of California! Everyone disparaging this article should learn more about the coastal act and the importance of conserving natural for all (not just the ones that can afford it).

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    • I couldn’t agree more. You are so right about folks learning more about Coastal Access. For too long wealthy beach front owners have tried to limit the public access, Richard is on the right track!

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  10. Terrible article promoting trespassing with a sense of entitlement. The property in question is private and just because the Coastal Commission says it isn’t doesn’t make it so. It’s a rogue agency with no oversight that is continually overstepping its role and seizing land by eminent domain. No one is stopping Richard and his cronies from accessing the beach via alternate paths. It appears however that they would rather intrude on people’s privacy in walking in front of their units. The entire article reeks of petty vengeance in sticking it to people who are fortunate enough to live here. Really? Is this the kind of journalism GT wants?

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    • Spoken like a true elitist. The truth is, those units will likely be wiped out by the ocean within the next 20 years. No, you don’t own the beach, nor the beach front, nor do you have the responsibility of maintaining that easement.

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  11. Interesting article. From the title ” Our hiking expert blazes the best Trails” , I thought I’d be reading about a little known or special trail in Santa Cruz county. Instead Richard delves into the controversial blocking of the public easement at Rio Del Mar.
    I’ve walked the beaches of Aptos and RDM many times and they are special, but this article focused more on the negativity of how the HOA has blocked access to the public rather than to focus on the beauty of this ocean stretch.
    I support Richard’s supposition that the RDM HOA is illegally blocking the public from being able to walk the easement along the beach, but would hope the future articles would highlight some of the special nature hikes that we have throughout the region.

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  12. Actually, some homeowners ARE calling the sheriff out to harass those trying to mind their own business walking on the public right-of-way. Also not only are both ends fenced off, they have built obstacles completely across the path in the middle of the walkway.

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  13. Shame on GT for misinforming the public. A petty and vengeful local hiker swinging his journalistic weight around to encourage folks to harass residents about a controversial issue that is costing SC lots of money trying to lay claim to a doomed stretch of beach that is regularly threatened by waves, tides and rivers and will soon go the way of the Hawley’s house down the street. Hard to understand why the county chooses to waste our tax dollars in this way.

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    • …also, just as the article itself is misleading, some of the photographs of walkways are mis-identified, adding to the confusion and misinformation…

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  14. What a wonderful article taking a moment to share a real lived experience Stockton encountered with an unchecked Karen in the wild while he attempted to access some of our county’s wonderful beachfront maintained accessible to the public by the California Coastal Commission. I can’t believe people are so hurt by their lack of ownership of the ocean that they call this description of the interaction “vengeful and aggressive” on Stockton’s part. How dare people be so uninformed.

    From the CCC website:
    The zone reaches three miles into the ocean—the outer limit of state waters—and generally about 1,000 yards inland from the high tide line, though in some areas it stretches farther back depending on the landscape.

    Take a moment and brush up on Prop. 20 https://californialocal.com/localnews/santa-clara/ca/article/show/62530-california-coastal-commission-history-mission-founding/

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