Coastal Commission Approves Public Access Map—With MRCA Input

California Coastal Commission

After a process seven years in the making, the City of Malibu and California Coastal Commission finally updated the city’s coastal public access map.

The map was discussed at the commission’s May 9 meeting in Oxnard as one of two City of Malibu-related agenda items. (The first, dealing with affordable housing, was approved with modifications to the requested amendment.) 

“This time, we’re gonna do it,” Joyce Parker-Bozylinski, representing the City of Malibu, said. She added there were no objections to what coastal staff was proposing.

Formally known as the Land Use Plan Public Access Map, it is used as a planning document to outline up-to-date public beaches as well as lateral and vertical public accessways. 

This hearing confirmed two main modifications: 

1. Change the language of the northern and souther n vertical public accessway at West Sea Level Drive near Lechuza Beach to read “existing vertical accessway.” Move the northern symbol location to Broad Beach Road at West Sea Level Drive.

2. Recognize Big Rock Beach as a state-owned property. The area was originally owned by Caltrans, and was later bought by the MRCA.

The road to certify the map has been long and winding.

To comply with the Local Coastal Program, the city first set out to update the map in September 2012. Then, in July 2014, the commission “conditionally certified” the city’s map, providing modifications. An accessway at Tivoli Cove Condominiums on Latigo Shore Drive was a point of contention, causing the process to draw out further. A year later, the commission deemed the change “substantive,” forcing the city to bring forth another LCP (Local Coastal Program) amendment. This new version, brought before the commission in 2017, was not approved with the addition; instead, a plan was devised to have staff from both entities work to create the modifications. The city did not make the deadline due, they said, to staffing shortages.

In October 2018, the commission and city had finally reached agreement when, per the commission report, “a member of the public who owns property at the landward end of West Sea Level Drive, where an existing vertical public accessway had been depicted on the Public Access Map, disputed the accuracy of the city’s depiction regarding its status as an open, existing accessway” during a city council meeting.

In response, the city changed the wording from “existing vertical accessway” to “vertical access document recorded,” in addition to shifting its location on the map. 

The unanimous, 12-0, approval with modifications, however, was not without complaint.

Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy and executive officer of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, complained about the amount of time spent on updating the public access map.

“First of all, we don’t want to have to wait 20 or so years—we are constantly making new acquisitions,” he said.

Later, he aired his grievances with Malibu City Council.

He said, “You can have tens, in some cases, tens of millions of dollars [in] state bond money buying a piece of property going to a public agency and the City of Malibu is saying, ‘Uh-uh, no, no, no. We don’t care … because it’s still zoned residential, you have to come to us for a CUP [conditional use permit].’”

The latter is most likely in reference to a parcel the MRCA bought in Sycamore Park, a residential neighborhood. Its private residents are currently in litigation with the state agency over the property’s rights. This, however, does not technically fall under commission purview, given its inland location. 

As for adjusting the map regularly, CCC director Jack Ainsworth suggested having the City of Malibu come back every five years with an updated map. Parker-Bozylinski said the city was not opposed to the idea, but staffing issues could make meeting the deadline difficult in coming years. As for Edmiston’s CUP complaints in Sycamore Park, she and commission staff agreed no decisions would be made on that issue at the meeting. 

The coastal commission approved the amendment with modifications, the five-year update and a line in the policy—requested by Edmiston—to read: “This map may not indicate the full extent of public ownership or public access.”

At the May 13 Malibu City Council meeting, City Attorney Christi Hogin addressed Edmiston’s Sycamore Park concerns directly.

“The LCP, which—you may recall—was not exactly written by us, has in it a requirement of getting a CUP for a park in a residential neighborhood,” she explained. The requirement was added by the commission itself.

She called Edmiston’s words part of a “drumbeat to try and create the image of the city as not being park-friendly,” calling it more of a “PR” problem than a legal one