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Open Question

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On Nov. 3, voters–or at least the small number that make it to the polls–will choose whether to enshrine Texas’ populist open beaches law in the state Constitution.

Proposition 9, one of 11 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, would guarantee the public’s right to access and use Texas beaches from Sabine Pass to South Padre Island. Many developers, beachside homeowners, and private property rights activists have never liked the 50-year-old Texas Open Beaches Act, periodically challenging it at the Legislature and in court. A libertarian legal organization is the latest to bring suit against the General Land Office in an effort to gut the law.

Proponents of Prop 9 say the measure would elevate the public’s right to the beaches and make such assaults harder. “This is the next logical step to protect what we have,” says A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, a former state senator from Galveston who co-authored the Open Beaches Act. “It is an absolute protection; it’s a brick wall.”

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.