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Friday, 29 August 2014 06:17

Surfers Defy Wealthy California Oceanfront Property Owners Denying Beach Access

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malibubeachMalibu Beach, California (Photo: Michael Clesle

A battle for public access to the California beaches on the Pacific Ocean is raging.

Although the outcome will impact anyone who wants to partake of the joy of walking on the sand, swimming and viewing the breathtaking natural beauty of the Pacific, the iconic California surfers are taking center stage in the battle to easily reach the beach. In fact, some of the best waves for surfing near Los Angeles are located in the exclusive Malibu area - where members of the 1% are trying to limit entryway to the oceanfront.

Independent LA television station KCET - in an article entitled, "Why California Beaches Are Open to Everyone" - provides background on the issue:

California voters in 1972 passed Proposition 20, also known as the California Coastal Commission Initiative.

The ballot measure called for the temporary creation of the California Coastal Commission, a politically appointed body tasked in part with protecting and preserving the 1,100 miles that make up the Golden State's coast and guaranteeing the public's access to that sea and shore. In 1976, the state legislature passed the California Coastal Act, basically making Prop 20 permanent."These two laws were really instrumental in changing the way Los Angeles, Southern California and the whole state's coastline looks and the ability of people in California to enjoy those resources," says Molly Selvin, associate dean for interdisciplinary programs at Southwestern Law School....

"This doctrine," Selvin says, "is the reason that beaches in California are held 'in trust' for public use, the source of the battles over Broad Beach in Malibu and one of the major tools the Coastal Commission has wielded in its decades long effort to keep beach and shoreline resources open and accessible to the public."

Many super-rich beachfront property owners have found ways to block paths to the beach by taking advantage of poor enforcement. As a result, in June of this year California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that empowered the California Coastal Commission to fine property owners who obstructed access to the ocean and beaches. 

However, according to NBC News, some of the richest people in the United States are using the courts to try and circumvent the prohibition on blocking designated public pathways to the beach.

As NBC News reports,

Along California’s 1,271 mile coast, from San Diego to the foggy coves near the Oregon border, there are more than 1,150 access points, or nearly one per mile, meaning points where the public is supposed to be able to reach the beach. They range from state parks to stairways to narrow sand paths. In areas where the public has "historically used private property" to reach the shoreline, the state creates access points through that property via easement or purchase of a sliver of land. Otherwise, the public is not supposed to cross private property.

In densely populated Southern California, however, only 60 percent of the access points are actually open to the public, according to the state agency that monitors access, the California Coastal Commission. The issue is most pronounced along the world-famous Malibu beachfront, a 23-mile-long strip north of L.A. that is home to many celebrities. Of 20 points that should be open in Malibu, say state officials, only nine are usable.

Many of the plutocratic opponents of public access are wealthy Los Angeles Democrats with second homes in Malibu, including media mogul and mega-contributor to the Dems, David Geffen. Right now, the most high-profile case is in northern California and involves a billionaire backer of President Obama, Vinod Khosla, as reported by NBC News:

[Khosla bought] an 89-acre parcel overlooking Martins Beach, a stretch popular with surfers. His new purchase included a private road off of the Pacific Coast Highway that provided the only direct access to the beach. Because of California law, the family that had owned the property for the previous century had permitted surfers access to the beach via the road, and had also built a parking lot and charged surfers from $2 to $10 to use it. For decades, locals used the lot and enjoyed the beach.

But after Khosla purchased the property for more than $30 million in 2008, he wanted to do things differently.

San Mateo County warned Khosla that he would need to maintain the beach access provided by the previous owners and mandated by the Coastal Commission. Khosla sued the county, and lost.

In 2010, after complying with the county’s wishes for two years, Khosla permanently locked his gate, blocking the road and the parking lot. He added security guards and signs reading “Beach closed, keep out.”

Khosla has been delaying compliance with state access laws by hiring expensive lawyers and claiming that historical technicalities do not require him to open the closed access route. Meanwhile, the Surfriders Foundation filed a lawsuit against Khosla earlier this summer seeking to require him to abide by the law. The litigation is still pending.

The opposition to Khosla's actions, however, is not the only challenge being mounted in opposition to beach privatization. Remember, NBC reports that 40 percent of public access paths to beaches in Southern California are blocked.

Although surfers may be at the forefront of the fight for the right to have unfettered entryway onto the oceanfront, the issue has much broader significance than just surfing: Will the state of California enforce the law that recognizes that California beaches and the Pacific Ocean belong to everyone, and that no one should be hindered from enjoying their magnificence? 

If many ultra-rich property owners continue to limit open availability of the California beachfront, a mighty wave of indignation should rise and demand universal access to the Pacific coastline, without hindrance.

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