The three key principles of the common law Public Trust Doctrine; the right to fish, the right to navigate, and the right to access public tidelands and submerged lands, have been enshrined in the California Constitution since 1879. The constitutional prohibition on the sale of sovereign lands has been modified only once to address a specific issue relating to the state’s sales of sovereign lands prior to the 1879 prohibition.
Article I Declaration of Rights – Section 25
SEC. 25. The people shall have the right to fish upon and from the public lands of the State and in the waters thereof, excepting upon lands set aside for fish hatcheries, and no land owned by the State shall ever be sold or transferred without reserving in the people the absolute right to fish thereupon; and no law shall ever be passed making it a crime for the people to enter upon the public lands within this State for the purpose of fishing in any water containing fish that have been planted therein by the State; provided, that the legislature may by statute, provide for the season when and the conditions under which the different species of fish may be taken.
SEC. 3. All tidelands within two miles of any incorporated city, city and county, or town in this State, and fronting on the water of any harbor, estuary, bay, or inlet used for the purposes of navigation, shall be withheld from grant or sale to private persons, partnerships, or corporations; provided, however, that any such tidelands, reserved to the State solely for street purposes, which the Legislature finds and declares are not used for navigation purposes and are not necessary for such purposes may be sold to any town, city, county, city and county, municipal corporations, private persons, partnerships or corporations subject to such conditions as the Legislature determines are necessary to be imposed in connection with any such sales in order to protect the public interest.
SEC. 4. No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage or tidal lands of a harbor, bay, inlet, estuary, or other navigable water in this State, shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose, nor to destroy or obstruct the free navigation of such water; and the Legislature shall enact such laws as will give the most liberal construction to this provision, so that access to the navigable waters of this State shall be always attainable for the people thereof.
Article XVI Public Finance – Section 6
SEC. 6. … The Legislature shall have no power to make any gift, or authorize the making of any gift, of any public money or thing of value to any individual, municipal or other corporation whatever.