Carbon and La Costa Beach Residents Sue Over Fence Removal

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The open beach, photographed on May 11

Last spring, an old fence was replaced along a stretch of sand between Carbon and La Costa beaches. Within days, the new one was gone, removed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), which opened the stretch to the public—without trash cans, restrooms or a gate. The move was just the latest in an age-old conflict between the public agency and Malibu residents concerned about sanitation, safety and privacy in their neighborhoods.

A group of La Costa and Carbon Beach residents has finally had it with the MRCA and its sister agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC). The homeowners formed their own unincorporated association—Citizens for the Responsible use of Carbon and La Costa Beaches. The group of neighbors filed a writ of mandate and complaints for injunctive relief with the Superior Court of the State of California on July 21 against the agencies for failing to provide fencing, restrooms and other amenities for the public as they had previously agreed.

“My clients just want the [MRCA/SMMC] to comply with what they already agreed to do,” said attorney Alan Block in a phone interview. “We’re not asking for anything they didn’t already agree to … A single property owner couldn’t get away with this.” 

It’s a decades-long story centering on two vacant adjacent lots between Carbon and La Costa beaches at 21704 and 21714 Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). The lots, which had been fenced off for as long as anyone could remember, have been publicly owned for nearly 20 years. An agreement forged in 2000 specified that the state agencies in charge of those lots must put in place certain accommodations for the public before making it accessible to the public.

This spring, residents, tired of seeing the dilapidated old fence between those parcels and PCH, tore it down and had it replaced without getting a permit. The MRCA/SMMC took that as an invitation to tear down the new fence, also without a city permit, and declare the area open to the public as of May 3. None of the agreed-to public facilities had yet been put in place—planned improvements were still in the works between the MRCA and the California State Coastal Conservancy.

The court papers state that the point of contention in this matter is the fact the MRCA removed a fence across the property, opening it to public beach access without first making agreed-to improvements, which include limiting beach access to daytime hours, preventing the accumulation of litter on the beach, providing public restroom facilities and putting up signs demarcating private property lines.

In addition, the lawsuit states there has not been an “adequate assignment of rangers to patrol the beach to prevent … trespassing up to and beneath the single family residences on the beach, littering on public and private property, public drug use and alcohol consumption and urination and defecation by beachgoers beneath the single family residences.”

The residents filing the lawsuit say the MRCA is bound by Coastal Development Permit Amendments issued by the California Coastal Commission on or about April 12, 2000, in connection with three beachfront property owners who dedicated the 80-foot beachfront lot to the state in exchange for not having to provide required public view corridors on their own lots: Gamma Family Trust; Eli Broad, Trustee of the Broad Revocable Trust; and Nancy M. Daly, Trustee of the Nancy M. Daly Living Trust. 

The residents’ court filing also quoted the April 2000 court decision, stating that the [State Coastal] Conservancy representative stated at the time that the site could not be opened to the public until an access management plan had been adopted and that the plan would need to include fencing and gating of the site with a time-lock mechanism or other means to allow public access to the site during daylight hours, and signage indicating the public access.

The MRCA/SMMC submitted a Malibu Coastal Access Public Works Plan for this and 16 other Malibu properties for environmental review in December 2019. The document describes the proposed changes to the site as construction of a viewing deck with wide terraces for benches and picnic tables, bicycle parking, portable restrooms and a stairway to the beach. 

The lawsuit asks that the public access be temporarily closed until such time as a public access plan is approved and all required improvements have been made.

In the meantime, Malibu resident Jennifer deNicola expressed her concerns over various important safety issues at the new public access directly to Joe Edmiston, executive director of the SMMC/MRCA, in a detailed letter sent June 3. When he failed to respond after nearly two months, she shared her concerns with John Ainsworth, coastal commission executive director, on July 29. In response, Denise Venegas, coastal program analyst, wrote deNicola on Aug. 5 affirming the requirements of the 2000 CDP Amendment.

On July 28, California Coastal Commission District Director Steve Hudson sent a letter to Edmiston informing him of the requirements for a fence, locking gate and signs at that public access point. There is no indication whether Edmiston or the MRCA/SMMC responded.