Monmouth Beach has limits on controlling beach crowds

By Neil Schulman

Monmouth Beach — Residents say that the beach is less enjoyable this year than in the past. They say the crowds are too heavy, people are sneaking in without buying passes, people who shouldn’t have access to the lockers are using them, and alcohol is being consumed in glass bottles. Borough Commissioners say they are working to address some of these issues, but others, notably the large crowds, are beyond their control.

At the Aug. 21 Commissioners meeting, several residents spoke about the problems they have been having.

“We’re too crowded. We really are,” said resident Anthony Villane.

Several people spoke about an incident on Aug. 5 which Villane described as a “nightmare.” When badge checkers at the borough’s beach asked one group to show them their wristbands, that group began yelling that the checkers were racist.

Eventually, the police were called down. The visitors were allowed to stay.

“In the end,they bought badges and we could not deny them that opportunity. We don’t want to be Starbucks,” said Mayor Susan Howard. And while the words the visitors used may have offended residents, Borough Attorney Dennis Collins says that legally, people can’t be asked to leave a public beach for using them.

While residents say that annoying visitors and overcrowded beaches are hurting their experience, Howard said that legally, the borough’s hands are tied.

While Monmouth Beach owns the bathing pavilion and facilities, because beach replenishment was paid for with state and federal money and the borough can’t deny the public permission to access it if they buy badges — at least not without making members very unhappy.

“We can’t not sell the daily badges if we’re going to let people redeem guest passes,” Howard said. And many people buy seasonal memberships to bring visitors.

“You can’t discriminate (between) residents, non residents,” said Collins.

Permitting beach access is a major requirement for a seaside community — but it’s not the only issue. The state requires seaside towns to follow a beach management plan.

Collins said that he recently asked New Jersey to review Monmouth Beach’s plan, but doesn’t expect to hear back from them before the end of the summer. The plan, he noted, isn’t just about letting people on the beach, but issues like parking and restrooms.

Mayor Howard said that this poses a serious issue for the borough keeping control of its beaches.

“We barely met the requirements before beach replenishment,” she said. With more sand, and the ability to handle larger crowds, the state thinks that Monmouth Beach’s parking and other infrastructure is inadequate. It’s suggested Monmouth Beach open a parking lot inland and provide free shuttle service to the beach from there.

And Monmouth Beach wants to keep the state happy with how it runs the beach, because there’s a movement in parts of New Jersey to get rid of municipally-run beaches, and create county-wide systems.

“These legislators (from inland counties) don’t understand why their residents can’t go buy a Monmouth County Beach badge and pick the town,” Howard said.

The borough uses the revenue from beach collection to do things the county wouldn’t necessarily consider, like cleaning up the debris left on streets near the beach.

“So far we’ve been able to not get it passed — but they’re still trying,” she warned.

Howard said that in 2008, Monmouth Beach began cracking down on people sneaking into the beach without paying, beginning the practice of badge checkers. While patrolling, these checkers are given wristbands to sell to those who don’t have them. (You can’t buy one if you say you’re a member who forgot your badge; then you need to go to the front kiosk so they can look up your information to confirm that.)

While Howard said that all the badge checkers are adults, and many are teachers working a summer job, residents said that most of the checkers they see appear very young, and seem intimidated.

Reportedly, it’s not just large unruly groups of out of towners that can intimidate them. Some members apparently get very upset when they’re not recognized and are asked to show their seasonal pass.

Monmouth Beach is considering using special officers to patrol the beaches and check for badges instead, since a uniform can carry more authority.


Beach pavilion use

While the borough can’t restrict beach use, it can restrict access to the pool and other facilities at the pavilion. Members say that isn’t always happening.

“The dailies are going into the locker rooms,” complained one resident, saying that’s reserved for members. Others said that the showers were occupied with people who weren’t supposed to have access, and the pavilion restrooms were filled with people changing.

Howard said that this isn’t supposed to be happening.

Collins said that this was an issue that would be discussed in closed session, because it involves accusations that personnel are not doing their jobs. Personnel matters cannot be discussed in public.


Glass bottles

Several people, notably a few members of the Monmouth Beach EMS, said they had repeatedly seen people drinking out of glass bottles, which they called a serious safety risk.

“I’m on the First Aid Squad, and if the glass breaks and someone steps on it, you’re going to ruin someone’s summer,” one said.

Another called the coolers filled with beer bottles they saw being taken onto the sand “a recipe for disaster.”

Glass bottles are illegal on the borough beaches.

Collins said that some of the closed session discussions would involve talk of criminal activities taking place on the beach as well.


Commissioners: tell us

Monmouth Beach officials asked residents to tell them if they see violations to inform the staff of the pavilion. If the pavilion staff thinks they need assistance, they will contact the police.

Howard and the other commissioners said that they also want to be contacted by residents when they have concerns.

For example, the mayor said that she hadn’t realized signs on the side entrances to the beach directed people to go to the front to get tickets, thinking there were kiosks for sales there.