(written with Peter Madden and Ben Adair, my compadres at Escape Apps)
It's been eight weeks now since Escape Apps and I released the Our Malibu Beaches app for the iPhone, and not a few people have asked us, "WTF? I mean, shouldn't the city or the county or the state be making sure that we've got access to the public beaches?"
And the good news is...Yes! Ideally. But when it comes to Malibu, all bets are off. Instead of enforcing public access laws, the city tackled the problem by deputizing a small cadre of volunteer parking ticket vigilantes to enforce new restrictions on public parking--while showing no interest in recovering all the public parking blocked off illegally by homeowners. And LA County loves the Malibu beaches so much that they've acquired miles of beaches and locked them up for decades.
The state California Coastal Commission, though, is a happier story. It was created by citizen initiative (Proposition 20) in 1972 and later charged with the enforcement of the California Coastal Act of 1976, which guarantees public access to the coast. And they're very, very serious about it.
The bad news is that the Coastal Commission is the only state agency of its kind that doesn't have penalty authority. It has a years-long backlog of 1,876 violations, nearly a third of which are public access violations like the ones we created Our Malibu Beaches to circumnavigate--hidden and obstructed accessways, illegal 'No Trespassing' and 'No Parking' signs, and the now famous fake garage doors and driveways that keep would-be parkers out of public spaces on public streets.
To crack down on any of these, the Coastal Commission must persuade the Attorney General to initiate litigation against offenders--which is so time-consuming, not to mention so costly to us the taxpayers, that they've done so only four times in the last ten years. They go after only the most egregious violations--like the recent transformation of a piece of Big Sur coast for Facebook mogul Sean Parker's multimillion dollar wonderland wedding.
That's four violations out of 1,880. If you're a coastal property owner, you don't have to count cards to play those odds.
And Malibu might be the poster child for public access violations, but this is obviously a statewide problem--Just ask anyone from Santa Cruz or Santa Barbara or Newport Beach. Ever tried to get to Privates Beach? How about Hollister Ranch? Strands Beach in Dana Point? Not so easy?
Which brings us back to AB976--and to some potentially very good news! Sponsored by San Diego Democrat and Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, this bill proposes to allow the Coastal Commission to levy fines (potentially upwards of $1,000 per day) directly against violators. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is making its way through the Senate committees. It should reach the floor any day now.
So write your state senator NOW! There's no such thing as an all-private beach in California, so it's time that we finally empowered the Coastal Commission to do what we created it to do. AB976 will protect our access to the sand and surf we love, ensuring that our Malibu beaches are ours not just on paper but also in practice.