Beach access issue continues

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What is private and what is not? That is the question.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

Last month, a Malibu Canyon resident lay down on what she said she thought was a public portion of Broad Beach. Minutes later, a security guard appeared on an ATV. He told Columbine Goldsmith she was on private property, and demanded she leave.

Since Goldsmith does not recall precisely where she was on the beach, it is impossible to find out whether she was actually trespassing. But the chance of getting a clear answer to that question is not much greater even if she could pinpoint the exact spot upon which she lay.

Determining which portions of Broad Beach (or any beach that has oceanfront homes) are private and which ones are public has been a controversial issue in Malibu for years. The issue garnered a new interest in late August when the Los Angeles Times ran an article that gave the full play-by-play, pictures included, of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies instructing California Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan to leave a part of the beach they said was private land. Wan informed the five deputies that she was, in fact, on an easement granted to the state, therefore not violating any law.

One of the ways the public portion of the beach is determined is by the mean high tide line, with the seaward side being public land. In addition, many of the homeowners along Broad Beach have dedicated public easements on their property in exchange for greater development rights from the Coastal Commission. The Wan case is an example of that situation. But the only reason she knew the land she was on was an easement was because she looked it up prior to her arrival. The commissioner said a map would be useful to clarify the land designations for pedestrians and law enforcement. However, she added the state does not have the money to pay for the process of going through the multiyear amount of records to create a map. But Wan said she expects a map to be created sometime in the near future. In the meantime, homeowners erect signs, some illegal, that warn beachgoers of trespassing.

Even if maps were created, the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, which patrols Malibu, still recommends homeowners make citizen’s arrests prior to calling authorities. The logic behind the recommendation: nobody knows the property boundaries better than the homeowner, according to sheriff’s officials. In most situations, a warning by the homeowner is all it takes to get the intruder off the property. But when that does not work, the citizen’s arrest could come into play. The sheriff’s department would then issue a citation. Local sheriff’s Capt. Tom Martin told the City Council at a September meeting that no citation has ever been issued for trespassing on the beach in five years.

Marshall Grossman, a resident of Broad Beach, said, at times, even the residents of the homes may not know where the boundaries lie. He said part of the problem is how the Coastal Commission creates the public easements, with different sizes on different properties. He also questioned the legality of requiring such easements, saying the commission intimidates people into doing it when they want to do something such as a remodeling that has no effect on beach access.

“The commission continues to obtain private land without properly paying for it,” he said. “They are thumbing their nose in the Supreme Court’s face.”

Grossman said if the commission had a more uniform system of creating easements, with clearly defined areas that the public would know whether they could enter, then there would be less confusion and less conflict. But he said it appears the commission is more interested in creating conflict, as he said the Wan incident showed, than it is with solving problems.