Ellis Pickett gave all Texans some good advice about how to honor the memory of A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, the renowned former Galveston lawmaker who died Friday at the age of 92.

“If they’ve ever enjoyed a beach in Texas, they need to think of him any time they go,” Pickett, a chairman of the Surfrider Foundation, told a Daily News reporter.

“He was a champion of the coast.”

Schwartz accomplished many things during his many years in the Texas Legislature, serving both in the House and Senate. His most enduring legacy, however, is the Texas Open Beaches Act, which he was instrumental in bringing into law.

It seems unlikely that anything else in which he played a major role has benefited the public more practically, more overtly or for longer.

That benefit fell especially to work-a-day Texans who could never hope to own a piece of beachfront property; to most of us, in other words.

Pickett, also a champion of the coast, told the reporter that most people probably don’t realize what exactly they got from lawmakers like Schwartz working almost 60 years to pass the Open Beaches Act.

What Texans got from the law is a “free and unrestricted right of ingress and egress to and from the state-owned beaches bordering on the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico … .”

At its core, the law means that nobody can tell anybody in Texas “this is my beach, get off it.”

Like all laws, the Open Beaches Act is subject to interpretation, which means it’s subject to change as those doing the interpreting change.

And it’s under constant pressure from people who disagree with the fundamental concept upon which the law was built — that the beaches in Texas should be public land, rather than private property.

There probably have been as many setbacks as advances for the act since it became law in 1959. That has certainly been true in recent years. The most notable among the recent examples is a Texas Supreme Court opinion issued in the case Severance v. Patterson, which threw into question everything everybody thought was the case about how to define the public easement on an eroding or accreting beach.

Among the most important things Schwartz and those other lawmakers gave us 59 years ago was the idea and the precedent to argue the beaches are ours, the public’s, and not to be carved into parcels and sold off as real estate.

We should remember “Babe” Schwartz today and stop to appreciate his work on our behalf. We should also remember that his legacy of public beaches is not necessarily permanent and that we have a responsibility to maintain it.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

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