Universal easement plan for Broad Beach in the works


Broad Beach homeowners remain optimistic that a universal easement deal can be reached with the Coastal Commission, while commission representatives say a compromise may be difficult to achieve. Meanwhile, the beach battles continue.

By Stephen Dorman/Special to The Malibu Times

After several years of litigation, and back and forth quibbling about private property versus public access to Broad Beach, the Trancas Property Owners Association and the California Coastal Commission are trying to negotiate a universal lateral easement plan along the 1-mile stretch of coastline just north of Zuma Beach.

The negotiations come after years of various squabbles between beachfront homeowners and the public in several areas of Malibu to deny access. The battles have been highly publicized in the media recently. Skirmishes over beach access have included Carbon Beach where David Geffen fought to deny the opening of a vertical accessway, and La Costa Beach, where the homeowners association fought to prevent Eli Broad, Nancy Daly Riordan and Haim Saban giving away a slice of land to the public for access. Geffen and other homeowners in long ago deals agreed to dedicate portions of their land in exchange for permits to build on the beach.

Currently, 52 of the 108 properties along Broad Beach have lateral access easements, according to a report in the Associated Press. (Lateral easements give access to the public along the shoreline, while vertical easements give access from the highway to the shoreline.) While each easement varies in depth, in what is a highly contested measurement, all easements begin where the median high tide line ends and extends away from the water toward the beachfront properties. With fewer than half of the homeowners on Broad Beach already agreeing to supply lateral access to the public, the current easement situation is a maze of private and state-owned property lines.

On the California Coastal Commission Web site, www.coastal.ca.gov, there are 19 pages of maps and aerial photos dedicated to the existing property lines and public easement along Broad Beach.

“As a legal matter, the public has no right to go on any private property where there has been no grant of a lateral access,” said Marshall Grossman, an attorney and board member of the Trancas Property Owners Association. “So the suggestion of several in our association is to work out a compromise with the Coastal Commission, the result of which would be uniform and consistent grant of lateral access above the mean high tide line so that the public and the homeowners alike will know exactly where the public could go above the high tide line. That would eliminate all of the uncertainty that currently exists.”

Coastal Commission board member Sara Wan sounded less optimistic about the possibility of a universal easement plan in the near future.

“We have the easements that we have and when you get additional easements they have to be based on development requests,” Wan said in a telephone interview. “I don’t have any way of knowing how you could accomplish that given the current laws. I just don’t see how that’s possible.”

(Wan a few years ago had highly publicized the issue at Broad Beach when she parked herself on what she declared was public land; several Sheriff’s deputies showed up and escorted her off the beach.)

When coastal residents apply for permits to rebuild or remodel an existing property, the Coastal Commission supplies them with one of two options: conduct a study to determine how the project will affect access to the beach, or donate a portion of their land to the state for public access. It’s an ongoing practice that Grossman has called illegal.

“The United States Supreme Court found that the easements that it reviewed had been obtained illegally,” Grossman said. “The fact of the matter is that those easements remain in place because they were not challenged as illegal and therefore the time may have run [out] for various homeowners to challenge the legality of those easements.”

Furthermore, once a property owner donates land to the state as part of a redevelopment agreement, those easements have no fixed expiration date, Grossman said.

Linda Locklin, access program manager for the Coastal Commission, said Grossman’s claims of the commission illegally obtaining beachfront property are inaccurate.

“These public access easements have been acquired through public hearings at the Coastal Commission,” Locklin said. “Property owners have all the opportunity to come to the public hearings and speak their minds, enter into a dialogue, object, submit facts or even sue the commission. So it’s all done in a public process.”

While some Broad Beach homeowners have complained throughout the years that the public sometimes doesn’t respect the difference between state and public property, particularly during the busy summer season, Grossman said the majority of beachgoers accept and heed to homeowners’ privacy requests.

Malibu Sheriff’s liaison, Lt. Randall Dickey, said he was unaware of any calls from homeowners regarding people violating private property laws on Broad Beach last summer. However, some homeowners in the area have logged complaints about animals roaming free on their property.

“The calls that we seem to get start when the weather starts to warm up and people are riding their horses or bringing their animals down on the beach, which is illegal,” Dickey said. “All that beach, as well as Zuma Beach, you are not supposed to have animals out there.”

While the uncertainty of access along Broad Beach continues, discussions are ongoing regarding the universal easement agreement. Grossman said he remains “guardedly optimistic” that a deal can be worked out within the next several months.

“Such a compromise would require concessions by both the Coastal Commission and the homeowners,” Grossman said. “It’s our hope that a compromise can be reached.”