Embarking nearly two years ago on an aggressive campaign to open local beaches to the public, the California Coastal Commission has been joined in its efforts by a newly formed, local nonprofit group, Access For All.
The group, comprised of founder Steve Hoye and board members Marcia Hanscom, of Wetlands Action Network, and Robert Roy van de Hoek, an environmental activist running for a Malibu city council seat, has been granted approval by the commission and the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) to accept, open and manage a vertical accessway near movie mogul David Geffen’s home on Carbon Beach. A vertical accessway is a path that leads from a public road to the beach.
The Coastal Commission embarked on a mission to accept and open offers to dedicate (OTDs) public access to beaches in California before they expired. The commission stated in its 1999 Public Access Action Plan that it ultimately would like to open up to 50 alone in Malibu.
In long-ago deals, the Coastal Commission required that beachfront property owners dedicate a portion of their property to public access in order to obtain permits to build on land near the shore. There are currently 15 vertical OTDs recorded in the City of Malibu, with four already opened. Nine others were open prior to the inception of the Coastal Act.
Nonprofits can take on the opening and management of accessways providing they meet certain criteria. Linda Locklin, public access program manager, said the main criteria a group must meet is to be a bona fide, nonprofit organization registered with the state of California; have a principle bylaw that states it is incorporated to operate and deal with land issues; and that a group be insured.
A management plan, along with proof of the main criteria, must be submitted to the Coastal Commission and SCC for review.
Locklin also said the entity wishing to accept and oversee an OTD must “convince us that they have the ability” to manage public lands. Part of this ability would be having “a paid staff, a large volunteer base,” and a “history of operating public lands,” she said. A “sort of resume.”
Locklin said Access For All has submitted a plan and meets the main criteria. However, both Hoye and Locklin said Access For All does not have any money of its own, which leaves it unable to show it can pay a staff. Nor does it have a readily available large volunteer base, and only has a short history of managing public lands.
Although Hoye did not provide any status of how much money Access For All has in its coffers, both Hoye and Locklin said it does not need any of its own dollars.
“They don’t need funds of their own,” said Locklin. “They will have an ongoing volunteer base. They plan on fundraising.”
They said the costs of opening up the access point would be paid for from a SCC fund, which is collected from coastal permit fees, coastal license plate fees and also from the Malibu Beach Access Fund, consisting of in-lieu fees required through permits for nonvisitor-serving commercial projects.
Hoye also said he is “absolutely certain” that he would be able to fund this and other accessways from future donations and volunteer efforts by Malibu residents.
“I’m a fundraiser,” he said, mentioning that people could leave “juicy-sized” donations in their wills to fund management of the sites.
As far as a volunteer base, Hoye at first said he planned to manage the Carbon Beach access site with a volunteer staff, made up of mostly Sierra Club activists.
“Theoretically, we have all Sierra activists in Malibu as a volunteer basis,” said Hoye.
But, he also said he is the only person to be actively involved with Access right now.
In a later interview, Hoye said, “If we were to open Geffen’s tomorrow, I would request dollars for five to 10 years of maintenance.”
Hoye said he would then hire someone, perhaps a ranger or a person with land management experience, to maintain the site. Eventually, he would ask volunteers to take over. Hoye estimated the cost would be around $50,000 per year to do this.
However, Joe Chesler, chief of planning for Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors, which manages 11 vertical sites in Malibu, said the county spends only $30,000 per year for each accessway. This includes the cost of opening and closing gates, visual inspections, any landscaping, repairs and any physical improvements that might be needed, and personnel.
The history that Access For All shows in managing public lands is that it has already accepted and managed four other easements in Malibu. They are lateral accessways, meaning they run horizontally along the beach. Two are off Malibu Road and two are located in the Big Rock area, near Moonshadows restaurant.
The management of these beach access sites involves “taking a walk” three times a year and submitting an annual report to the commission and SCC, said Hoye.
Hoye said all the Geffen accessway would need is timed-lock gates, programmed to open at sunrise and close at sunset. He said volunteers would monitor it several times a week, depending on how well the gates worked.
“If they work well, [the site will be monitored] two to three times a week,” said Hoye. “If not, if there are problems with vandalism graffiti, etc, then [they would be monitored] daily.”
The issue of safety for the public as well as the private homeowners, who would be next to public accessways, was discussed at a Public Safety Commission meeting two weeks ago. Traffic, liability, parking and the additional strain this would put on the sheriff’s budget and resources, as well as on the county, were brought up at the meeting.
“The primary concerns are liability issues and public safety issues,” said Lt. Thom Bradstock, of the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff’s station.
Bradstock said liability is a concern because it is not clearly designated what land is private and public.
Hoye said his group is insured well enough to handle any liability issues.
The safety of pedestrians worries officials because Carbon Beach is located right next to Pacific Coast Highway, where traffic is “a bit faster” than in other parts of Malibu, said Bradstock. And there are no parking lots available to the public if they wish to visit Carbon Beach.
Locklin and Hoye did not seem concerned about the parking issues.
“Every time I stopped there, I’ve always found a parking space,” said Locklin. “That’s how we always looked at PCH-a linear parking lot.”
Hoye seconds this view.
“PCH is the largest parking lot in Southern California,” he said.
Hoye said he supports more pedestrian crossings on Pacific Coast Highway, to provide safer passage.
He scoffs at the idea that droves of people will come to use the beach once the accessway is open.
“Really, how many people are going to use these sites?” he said. “What’s going to happened, is the people of Malibu are going to be able to go to the beach.”