Impact of more beach access worries locals

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The public may soon be able to access more beach area in Malibu if the state is successful in its effort to open additional vertical accessways to local beaches.

This has some residents worried about issues such as trash, not enough parking spaces and no restroom facilities for beaches that only property owners presently have access to.

Currently, there are 13 vertical accessways (points at which people can get from the highway or land to the beach) in Malibu that are open to the public. And there are 18 more potential points where access can be opened up.

In long ago deals, the California Coastal Commission required that beachfront property owners dedicate a portion of their property to public access in order to obtain permits to build on the beach. These deals were called Offers to Dedicate (OTD). The problem is many of theses OTDs will soon expire, because they only have a life of 21 years.

The Coastal Commission, along with the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) and the State Lands Commission (SLC), is working to mitigate this problem by going through the formal process of accepting the OTDs that are about to expire.

Barry Hogan, Malibu Planning Department director, said the issue of public access is required to be covered in the Local Coastal Plan the city is currently working on. However, the OTDs’ acceptance is up to the Coastal Commission.

“The city probably will get involved in any ramifications of the OTDs,” said Hogan.

The ramifications that Hogan is speaking of are the above-mentioned issues, such as parking, and who will manage the access points.

“The problem is that these are requests that have gone some time ago,” he said. “At the time, the issue of parking and restroom facilities should have been addressed. Now it’s a little difficult to address–after the fact.

“How do we create coastal access with respect to residents is the key,” he said.

There are currently 15 vertical OTDs recorded in the City of Malibu , with four vertical OTDs having already been accepted and opened. Nine other vertical accessways were open prior to the inception of the Coastal Act. Two other access points, one already open, are a result of other legal contracts with the Coastal Commission. In addition to the vertical OTDs there are 262 lateral (areas running along the beach) OTDs, with 100 opened. Opening lateral access would be widening the sand area in front of beachfront homes that the public could use. Currently, the state owns beach land up to the mean high tide line (the halfway mark between the ocean and the high tide line). There also exists what is called “deed restriction access offers.” Deed restrictions differ from OTDs in that they vary in what a homeowner or builder has promised in the way of building or access to the beach.

Sarah Wan, chair of the Coastal Commission and who sits on the board of the SCC, said that the Coastal Commission and the SCC are in the process of looking at all OTDs and prioritizing openings by the time of expiration.

The first step is to accept the offers, Wan said.

“Accepting the OTD does not mean that an access point will be immediately opening,” said Wan.

“They will be dealt with on a case -by-case basis,” she said, “on concerns about how to manage the access point.”

Funding for the venture of reviewing, accepting and opening access points may come from coastal development permit fees collected by the Coastal Commission and fees collected for coastal license plates. Also, the Malibu Beach Access Fund, consisting of in-lieu fees required through permits for nonvisitors- serving commercial projects, is to be used to improve beach access in Malibu.

“[It’s] not a lot,” said Wan, “but we have funding to review, make decisions and openings.”

Wan explained that while the Coastal Commission secures permits for builders with OTDs, and is involved in the regulatory process, it does not accept the land or open the easements. The Coastal Commission works with the SCC in finding agencies or nonprofit entities to accept the land and easements, and make sure that impediments are removed. The SCC will transfer to another state agency, local jurisdiction or a nonprofit agency to handle the opening of an access point.

Curtis Fossum, senior staff counsel of the SLC, said his agency deals with the lateral access OTD acceptances.

“Primarily what we’re doing is ensuring that the public has the right to use these areas,” said Fossum. “We’ve been asked to accept offers. Our commission and staff look at offers to see if it makes sense to accept [them], and then we go through the process and accept.

“It is a statewide project,” said Fossum. “We’re focusing on L.A. right now because the Coastal Commission has [agencies] around the county and other public interest groups that are willing to manage these areas.”

Although Fossum said there have been no complaints so far of notices for beachfront property owners to make good on OTDs, Wan said, “Property owners up and down the state always fight it.

“It’s important for residents to understand; the public does own the beach and has a constitutional right to access,” she said. “The smartest thing to do is to work with the commission and the conservancy to address legitimate concerns.”

“I think we have to balance the concerns of the community for concern with access to the coast and meeting state law,” said Hogan, “and that’s a delicate balance.”