Free Zuma beach on a winter day. LA Observed photo.
Attn: Malibu Times
In your publisher's "Straight Outta Kafka" 12/15 column, he slams the California Coastal Commission for levying a $4.185 million fine against a Las Flores Beach couple for public access violations. He denounces the fine as hugely excessive. As tyranny! As depriving citizens of due process!
"We now know," he laments, how arbitrarily the CCC will use their new power to levy fines.
Um, really??--as here are the facts as the Malibu Times, which has a reliable news page, has reported them. There has been a public easement to create an accessway on this property since 1979. The current owners bought the property in 2002 with full knowledge of the easement. Since 2007, the Coastal Commission has asked them again and again to remove the private development in the public easement--and has sent dozens of letters in the course of negotiations with the owners and their lawyers.
That's 9 years of due process under the current public access laws.
Not only have the owners refused to clear the accessway, but they have been renting out the house, at a purported profit of $1000/night--and have advertised the rental as a house on a Private Beach.
[Note to all Malibu beachfront homeowners: There's no such thing as an all-private beach in California.]
And after 9 years, when the CCC finally decided they had no choice but to levy a fine, the owners said, "oh my gosh, but why not just work with us, we're not trying to block public access."
The CCC has in fact used its power to levy fines (of up to $11,250/day) extraordinarily conservatively--as this is the first time the agency has used it since they acquired it 2 1/2 years ago. And far from operating outside the law, the agency now simply and finally has the same standard enforcement tool--a little more effective than saying please--that state and federal regulatory agencies generally have.
The CCC levied the first two fines this month--the $4.185 million on the Las Flores homeowners, which they viewed as an especially egregious case, and $975,000 on the Malibu Beach Inn for failing to build two access stairways that prior owners agreed to in 1988. The Inn's current owners, by contrast, did not respond by pretending to be the victim. They said, yes, we're in fact aware of this access requirement and we'll be delighted to comply with it.
The public has property rights, too. Take 2: the public has property rights, too. And for decades, we haven't been able to enjoy our more than mile of public sands on Las Flores Beach, which so far has no official public access.
We're tired of it...No, we're disgusted, really, that we're forced to use our state taxes to enforce access laws that are entirely clear, and that we have to fight decades-long battles for public access that has been long established.
The travesty here isn't the fine on these homeowners. The travesty is that everyone else has had to wait year after year after year while they have knowingly refused to obey the law.
That these homeowners are demanding more than 9 years to negotiate the clearing of a public easement that has been established for 37 years and that they have now had 14 years to take care of...
Well, now that's Kafkaesque.
(An earlier version of this post was published in the Letters section of the Malibu Times.)