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Nancy Smith

Walton County Customary-Use Leaders Playing a Dangerous Game

September 8, 2018 - 6:00am

Nowhere in Florida is the new law dealing with beach access the firestorm it has become in Walton County. The reason is complicated. But many folks along the panhandle's Emerald Coast claim it's not helping that a pair of local crusaders have a lot of citizens convinced House Bill 631 is the worst thing to befall Florida since Mercury went retrograde.

In the last month Dave Rauschkolb and Daniel Uhlfelder -- brothers in activism -- have made themselves the pied pipers of HB 631 repeal -- whipping people up to sign affidavits, attend meetings, donate money -- in a nutshell, "make Florida beaches public for all." 

Rauschkolb is a restaurateur, Uhlfelder an attorney. Together they're what former seasonal Seaside resident Lilly Bell calls "a tag team," dominating social media and public meetings to get people riled up against each other.

"Walton used to have only a handful of beachfront residents who wanted to enforce their privacy all the way to the water," said the retired interior decorator. "But most of them didn't care if people sat on their sand. Then Dave and Dan came along and caught a glimpse of the fame and attention they could get nationally. Now we have a civil war here."

The war, she said, is between the "coastal elites" -- residents, guests and tourists who live or vacation along 30A, the scenic beach road, -- and the rest of Walton County.

Bill Nelson showed up
Bill Nelson showed up

Bell told Sunshine State News, "All you need is a camera, and (Rauschkolb and Uhlfelder) come running. They need to control people. They like to hear themselves talk and read what they write on Facebook. I think they're on some kind of power trip. My late husband called them a tag team."

HB 631, was sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole, D-Plantation. The bill passed the Florida Legislature with an overwhelming bipartisan majority and 100 percent support of the Walton County delegation -- 29-7 March 6 in the Senate and 95-17 March 8 in the House. That's a total of 24 votes against in the whole of the Legislature. No wonder the governor didn't veto it. Why would he?

Uhlfelder believes the legislation was a sneak attack -- that Walton was deliberately excluded until it was too late to fight back. Which is why I was disappointed Rep. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs never returned my call. I would have liked to ask him why he or the county's stable of lobbyists  didn't point out 631 to County Administrator Larry Jones, at the very least. 

Jones, incidentally, did his Master's thesis in customary use.  Perhaps he might explain how he could let the county adopt an incomplete and unacceptable customary-use ordinance.

Meanwhile, Rauschkolb and Uhlfelder were discovering the high-theater potential of private property rights vs. customary use. They made customary use their next fight for justice.

Rauschkolb, who owns three restaurants in Seaside and a bakery/cafe/catering company in Grayton Beach, is used to getting things done. He takes credit for what he calls "game-changing community initiatives" including keeping high-rise condos out of South Walton, founding Hands Across The Sand (to stop offshore oil drilling in Florida); lobbying to remove the Confederate flag from the DeFuniak Springs courthouse, launching an effort to incorporate South Walton, and now something he calls "Stand Your Sand" -- a take-off of Stand Your Ground and an initiative for customary use of Florida’s beaches.

Uhlfelder, son of prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Steve Uhlfelder, has worked as a law clerk, staff aide in The White House, in the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives. Now he has his own general law practice on 30A in Grayton Beach. Among his causes, he says he has worked avidly to bring down the Confederate flag. And he believes creating a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization called Florida Beaches for All (FBFA) is the way to "overturn bad law and give citizens the fundamental right to use and enjoy all our beaches. ... I was raised in an environment where you stood up for things, not on the sidelines," he said during a telephone interview.

Uhlfelder made national news in July, the weekend after Gov. Rick Scott signed an emergency order supporting open beaches. And that's when his mushroom started to grow -- away from compromise, closer to a move for legislation repeal.

Uhlfelder challenged the new law two days in a row -- some say he was trying to get arrested for trespassing on private sand, but he claims he was "just trying to get a line drawn in the sand" so he would know where he could legally park his beach chair. The second day, when a security guard called the Sheriff's Department, Uhlfelder made sure his experience was recorded on YouTube and displayed on Facebook. The video went viral, gaining more than 100,000 views on YouTube alone and well over 1 million views across social  media platforms. (The video is displayed on this page.)

In addition, Rauschkolb was interviewed on the Weather Channel, which serves millions of viewers across America. National Public Radio showed up on the beach soon after. So did U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, looking for an opportunity to kick the governor, his senatorial opponent in November. And between the two proactive "protests" -- Uhlfelder's and Rauschkolb's and what has been described as "dozens of media interview requests," Walton's war for the beach had begun.

But some in the county, even the ones who don't live on the beach, have begun to grumble about what this customary-use movement is doing to their jewel of a county, and wonder if there might have been a more civil way for the two sides to come together.

Here are some of the disturbing aspects to Walton's situation:

The Conspiracy Theory. You don't often find a tin foil hat on a liberal, but Uhlfelder, the registered Republican for voting convenience only, sure is wearing one. This leader so many customary-use advocates are counting on has a conspiracy theory that goes straight to the top. He feels certain Walton County, where the suspicious "Governor Mike Huckabee" is a beach-owning resident, is being victimized by powerful dark forces. Uhlfelder is convinced "right-wing groups" -- for example, the Koch Brothers and the private property rights law firm Pacific Legal Foundation -- have hatched a plot at the highest level to  make customary use unconstitutional and to privatize every inch of beach in America. "It's close," he told me. "They could do this in two years." 

The Hypocrite Factor. Rauschkolb and Uhlfelder both live in communities with gated private beach access. Dave lives in fully-gated Watersound, Dan in Watercolor. To challenge the law and make his YouTube video, Uhlfelder had to contrive his beach outing to Vizcaya -- travel down to the end of 30A more than seven miles away, past some nine beach access points, when he had his own beach. Reading recent Facebook postings, the deception isn't sitting well with some residents.

Using the Sheriff.  Sheriff Mike Adkinson and his deputies are slap-bang in the middle of the dispute. Adkinson is the right sheriff at the right time for on-the-spot conflict resolution -- patient, good with people, wanting desperately not to arrest anybody for trespassing. "I'm not proferring an opinion of customary use," he said. "My job is to make sure we're not being arbitrary and capricious in the way we apply the law. A sheriff's office should never be the tool to resolve this. ... But I can tell you this: All these people who say 'we're saving the beaches'? No, they're not. The only place this is going to be decided is in court."

Overlooking the Good Guys. Some 90 percent of Walton's beachfront property owners are embarrassed and offended to be lumped in with the 10 percent erecting signs and stringing up ropes to keep people off the sand. They don't mind well-behaved trespassers, as their presence on county Facebook sites attests. I asked Uhlfelder if he would entertain compromise instead of repeal. He said no. "You know what compromise is, don't you? It's money. They want us to pay for our own sand." 

Affecting Tourism. Last year Walton welcomed 4.5 million visitors. Because of such strong tourism, the county records the lowest adjusted property tax rate in Florida. But 2018 might not be as strong if the compulsory-use battle continues. I asked VISIT FLORIDA Marketing Director Meagan Dougherty, by phone and by email, what affect, if any, the beach-access publicity was having on Walton tourism. She did not respond. But another VISIT FLORIDA official answered my question on condition of anonymity. "Hospitality industry people in Northwest Florida are telling us reservations are down and cancellations are up," the official said. "Of course they are. The national media got hold of a story that's telling the nation Florida's beaches are closed."

Fast, Loose and Frightening. Dan Uhlfelder is a lawyer. Florida Beaches for All is his baby. So, wouldn't you think he would make a priority of protecting the reputations of the people and organizations bundling under the FBFA umbrella? Last I looked, the non-profit 1) hadn't registered as a 501(c)(4) and 2) wasn't collecting Department of Revenue sales tax on the T-shirts and tank tops it's selling. (CORRECTION: FBFA is registered as a non-profit and must answer to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, not the Department of Revenue. I apologize for the error. But the issue is this: The charity is not registered with the state to solicit contributions at this time. That requires a permit FBFA does not have. When FBFA does apply, and their name appears on the "Check-a-Charity Florida" website, I will write a follow-up story to confirm the legal changes have been made.) 

Deception, Confusion. Hundreds of Walton Countians are expected to show up at today's public hearing on customary use at South Walton High School with signed and notorized affidavits. But when they do, many of them might discover they've been misled.

'You mean, our affidavits aren't going to get us back our use of the beaches?" Walton visitor Daniel Flyer asked me.

Flyer said he was led to believe the affidavit he signed and had notorized was as good as a petition to repeal the law. Which is what Uhlfelder is urging. He didn't fully realize the hearing was a county meeting set by commissioners to gather evidence of customary use -- citizens' use of the beaches over a period of 20 years -- so the county can prepare an ordinance that complies with the judicial process laid out in the new Florida law.

No wonder Flyer's misunderstanding makes sense. If you plan to repeal, why would you need to complete the county's affidavit?

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: NancyLBSmith 

Comments

Dave Rauschkolb has woven a fantasy in Walton county, filled with half truths, conflations, stating opinions as facts, and wild conspiracy theories to his group of 4,000+ followers who do not know the history, or the legal issues involved with private beaches in Florida, to conduct a witch hunt against fellow citizens and neighbors. Yes it's a witch hunt. Dave weaves an unchallenged narrative in Walton county, that these beaches only became private on July 1, 2018. Yet, this is easily disproven by even a novice looking up property deeds which go back decades, signed by the Walton county commissioners. Dave and his little sidekick Daniel have also promoted a conspiracy theory that most of the beach was ill gotten by beach front owners through quiet title actions - basically alleging most citizens stole property from the public. "quiet title = dirty deeds", said David Rauschkolb. Yet, again this is easily dis-proven by even the most simple search of on line property and even a basic understanding of Florida real property law. He can only get away with this in the court of public opinion, because it's simply not true. But repeat the story long enough by enough people and it becomes true. It also depends which Dave shows up --- is it gated private beach living millionaire Dave, with his for profit private beach bar on the "public's sand" - the same Dave who writes long articles on his outrage by owner's signs (which he instructs his mob to "throw it in the garbage") - but a private beach bar is just fine for millionaire businessman Dave. Is it Visions Mob leader Dave who shows up? Leading a mob of nasty vitriol of 4,000+ pitchfork raving, foaming at the mouth, willing to commit crimes to "stand their sand" as Dave calls for justice on the "people's sand" as he sees it. If there is someone they don't like, or doesn't support their views, they attack as a mob, finding out where they live, who they work for, and calling for and taking stalking actions to contact their employer, even going as far as targeting their extended family members. Dave approves and encourages trespassing in the protection of his social media clan, and eggs it on with "I support this (action)". His narrative of a "ancient right" means no one can get in his or his mobs way on Walton county beaches which only encourages this outrageous behavior. You can throw your Bill of Rights away --- they are the judge and the jury on what rights you have, what your deed really means or doesn't mean, as a property owner in Walton county. Yet the Judge in the recently dismissed case - only reaffirmed how much of a tall tale David spins. Judge Rodgers: "the doctrine [of customary use] cannot apply absent a judicial declaration". And there has never been any judicial declaration of customary use on Walton county beaches -ever. Yet, here is Dave himself on this very page saying just the opposite. And little Daniel? He must be a very stupid attorney - he abetted cyber-stalking and harassment of an innocent citizen --- participating in and identifying a young man's name to the mob which then led to stalking his family and employer all based on lie by one of their mob (the ethics complaint against Daniel to the FL BAR is on it's way). ANTIFA has nothing on David or Daniel's angry Visions mob. Or will be the Dave we all see in public or on the media? The "can't we all just get along, I'm just here to serve the community, everyone is good people", Dave? Want more proof of the witch hunt? Visit the Visions page for yourself. But be quick because they are known to delete posts which do not fit their narrative. Look at Dave's own comment on this article's page "Hello James Lince nice work on the source material in this article." Once again, David's stories never end - I am James Lince and I have never once communicated with the the author or publication of this well researched article. Not once. Yet here Dave is --- weaving another false narrative to the unsuspecting public. The article gets it right. Dave Rauschkolb and Daniel I'm a lawyer, are both DIRECTLY responsible for the civil war and the witch-hunt that has ensued and currently underway in Walton county against thousands of fellow citizens.

This is spot on !

The small number of beachfront owners who have over several years systematically been taking quiet title, putting up no trespassing signs and lobbying the Florida legislature to kill our Customary Use ordinance are very upset because their little plan is being brought into the light. Now they want to go after those of us who have brought sunshine to their shenanigans. That ship has sailed. We need to work together to repeal HB631, restore Customary Use, and come together as a community and create a working plan that restores order to our beaches to the satisfaction of beachfront owners and all beachgoers while allowing the public to use the beach as they always have. That is the ONLY thing that will quickly communicate to the vacationing public that The Beaches Of South Walton is a welcoming place to come.

Enough with the spin you ain't foolin nobody

It can’t be spin if it’s not even factually correct. Hahahaha Don’t argue with Dave he just digs himself a deeper hole. He is spinning himself down a black hole on this one. We’ve watched him do it for YEARS and it’s all about to catch up with him! Good! I’ve worked with a lot of guys with big egos - I didn’t mind them because they were smart. This guy, just like his sidekick Dan is just a joke with an ego of pure air and making noise. Dave is literally the village idiot.

Interesting how it is ok to sell the beach and then take it back with no consequences? I would have more respect for these two jokers if multiple public beach access walks were run through WaterColors and WaterSound with public parking. Remove the privacy gates and put out “welcome to the beach” signs so all of the beach is open for business. Their leadership is much needed to unsecure both resorts and share the fun. We The People are waiting...

NO "private beaches"!!! Three cheers for these two "Get It Done!" activists!

perhaps you should visit some other beaches, it has been a firestorm in quite a few areas...

That is very true. However, none of those other communities have these two guys who are the original Moe and Curly. If it weren’t wrecking so many people’s lives and incomes it would be entertaining. These two are simply dangerous quite frankly.

the typical wolf in sheep's clothing law for the legislature. This is a bad law, that should not have been passed. I applaud their efforts at repeal. One visit to that area and you can see the damaging fence offs on the beach and divisiveness amongst neighbors and visitors alike... Sadly, Scott didn't even have the balls to show up to his own campaign visit in the areas due to the protestors. I give credit to Nelson, at least he did, and I don't much care for either one of them...

If beach re-nourishment occurs in this area, then it should STOP. The property owner needs to take care and protect their own property. Government (from any level) monies should not be spent on private property....UNLESS it is doe through a matching grant with the match coming from the property owner.

What's interesting is that if a private owner does get free beach renourishment then they got a monetary benefit that has a tangible value and therefore technical they owe income taxes on that improvement.

Hello you all ballerinas are so good at dancing around the truth that y'all gonna make me re-post my earlier comment again. Word for word... Truth for Truth...Hate me in silence of you must because you can not touch my logic. Here ya go again: +++++ If you do not want oil rigs within sight of your home on the beach than you should be in favor of allowing public access to the beaches. Because it's the same thing in the respect that we need to do whats best for the tourists. Tourists are why you do not pay a state income tax and tourists are why you do not see oil rigs out of your beach windows. Tourists will quit coming to Florida if we allow Beach Hogs in Florida. Tourists trump your important @zz, all the money you made, and your desire to keep tourists off the beach in front of your house.

Well Said!

Be careful what you wish for, I.e. customary use. Follow the money...

https://eyeonmiami.blogspot.com/2015/07/who-owns-sunshine-state-news-big-sugar.html?m=1

Oh George. There is plenty of that to go around. Here is the largest newspaper in the state with its million dollar man being called to Task by the nonprofit journalism institute it helps RUN and FUND. Pretty damn amazing. https://www.google.com/amp/amp.poynter.org/news/tampa-bay-times-ceo-refinancing-debt-and-accepting-money-anonymous-lenders

Is this really about public beach access or is this about big money developers waiting in the wings wanting to come into the area north of 30a but only if the county can get the customary use doctrine passed so they will have access to the beach? Do we really want this to be another Destin? Obviously it would bring in mega dollars to the county and probably make certain people very wealthy, but is that really what we want for our area? If This really is what is going on, are they not using the local citizens merely as pawns to achieve their agenda? Would this not have the reverse effect and ruin our beaches? Does anyone know what is really going on behind the scenes and who is really going to benefit from this Cstonary use doctrine? Who are the real players here? Who is really going to reap the benefit of this customary use doctrine? If you crack that door with customary use, it may be flung wide open to allow the type of development that no one anticipated or wanted. We need to look at the big picture here. Why did this issue suddenly come up? Who initially raised this issue and who really stands to gain by this customary use issue? Is the eradication of the 4 story limit next?

The sand under my feet is like fleece. Warm. As the waves lap my feet, I've never had issue where I walk, but now there appears some. Seems like the crawlers are becoming aggressive. Perhaps there is a more peaceful solution? Why has this become such a polarizing issue? Perhaps a detailed look at who fund those in power is needed? But what do I know, I'm just a fly on a windshield?

Let’s address the elephant in the room - the beach vending enterprise that “plagues” our beaches. They have gone unchecked for too long and have not kept up with our evolving and growing community. Their refusal to “re-tool” how they provide their services has made this issue worse. Don’t believe their false claims that they require training ( a one hour presentation that our TDC ) that basically introduces them to code enforcement) and that they will become destitute if the vending industry is reduced or changed. It’s time for them to change their business model and at the very least be better at articulating your viewpoint to our visitors and citizens. You are in dire need of a “Code of Conduct” for your employees so they are not so aggressive, argumentative and confrontational in person and on line.

I agree and think that most reading this do as well. Perhaps some common ground?

I purchased land and built a home in Dune Allen area of Santa’s Rosa Beach in 1990. 1/4 away from Beach in Beach Highlands 1st addition. I did so so that I could Enjoy my walk to the beach with my Children. We rent our house out part time for the time being as well As stay there when we can until retirement. I was sold my property and shown by deed that this property was a part of Beach Highlands subdivision that aligns the beachfront properties with two accesses. One was partially developed by county. The second they are trying to secretly make disappear by building on one lot right up To the exact path line and fences(watch out for a Quitclaim deed takeover of some sort -leaving barely Enough room to walk through to the beach. Trying to Shut Down that second access that has no signs. Across From Baird Road near stahlworth beach access. Someone needs to Put a sign there now - county! there is a little Path and that is Public beach access . You just need to know that it is there - near Stahlworth Lake public beach access. In. Each Highlands. I was told and shown as many others who Bought in beach Highlands 1st addition that there were two public beach accesses that now I believe are in jeopardy. Now, because I don’t have the money that Beach Highlands does to “separate” themselves as claiming that they are their own entity and they say Beach highlands first addition neighborhood are not The same. They secretly Quit claimed a lot Of The beach front land and are trying To privatize their beachfront property And keep local citizens from the beach without their Permission From us and exclude us from being apart of Beach Highlands (due to extensive growth around the area which has nothing to do with original Deed that Mr. Bishop , the developer intended- his dependents have attested to. So the big point here is , the beachfront owners say that they were “TOLD” and seeded all the beach . Well So were we. We all Got bamboozled By the greedy real estate People. However. It is the developers and crooked people who have the power eg. judges lawyers etc that somehow took it upon themselves To change ancient old Deeds and change up land use laws to fit their best interest destroying the original land use intent and Jeopardizing the integrity of the entire area. We have all Been had. The beach belongs to Everybody!!!! The privileged Few That bought beachfront property bought the view And privilege to build A house in front of the beach. It ends at the dune area regardless Of what Their papers Say. Customary use. The beach belongs to all. Share or Move. To the beachfront owners:The beach It isn’t your land- only The house that sits next to it. The taxes you pay are because of the giant house you Had to build to supposedly Be happy. All people should respect The beach and clean up After themselves and be respectful Of all. Not everyone is. That’s life. Enforce the ordinances already made(which I can’t seem To understand why that is so hard - hire a few people- they could use the job) and get over it.

What a one sided article. I have known Dave R since I was 17 years old. I am now 50. He has fought and worked his ass off to improve this area. He and Daniel and others are the some of reason it’s such a cool place to live. Because, they give a shit and stand up and fight. This article is entirely misleading, wrong and one-sided.

Well said. I have known Dave for over 30 years as a resident, fellow surfer of the Gulf Coast and someone who literally loves the Intrinsic Nature of Walton County. The Preposterous notion of labeling him as "grandstanding" obviously says something about those who throw out the invectives. Those who defend the dubious legalese nature of "Private Beaches" are quite obviously not individuals that love the beach...These are folks that love to own. Republicans. Individuals that feel a sense of entitlement to what their money buys. These are individuals with no sense of community or respect for the beach. I respect Dave and his associates for staying true to Old Florida and embracing its' heritage , its' lore and reminding all of the simple right to embrace Gods' beauty as it resides in Walton County despite the Republicans' desire to monetize our beaches.

#ME TOO. #BOBBY JOHNSON SOLD PRIVATE BEACH PROPERTY

Is this the same Bobby J that sold me my beachfront property? And showed me how I have my own “Private Beach” down to the Mean High Tide Line? That Bobby J?

Anonymous? Really? Maybe you're the author

Not sure. What’s your address?

You would be surprised how often someone buys a property and does not ask me my personal opinion. If a deed goes to the waters edge and says private Beach that does not mean I support it. This is a very complex and convuluted issue. Where have all these “private beach” people been? I have been running up and down these beaches since 1975 and have never been kicked off of a beach. It seems if they were enforcing this it should have happen a long time ago. It has gotten crowded and the vendors are out of control so let’s go after the only thing we can is really what’s going on here. In my opinion, the county has gotten us here. It’s a sad day when we are out doing a beach clean up and get told to leave...

Typical hypocrite Realtor. Get your $$$ and run. If you sold property with PRIVATE BEACH anywhere in the listing you can look in the mirror and blame yourself. You and all Realtors have an obligation to your client, which it would appear, ECAR has forgotten about, especially since the BOD President of that group is part of the "movement" to take private property. No wonder you all supported the soon to be EX-BCC C. Jones.

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