MRCA Removes Fence at ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ After Residents Replace It Without Permit

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The open beach, photographed on May 11

On May 5, manual laborers took down the fence that divided La Costa Beach and Pacific Coast Highway and replaced it with a new, barbed wire-topped one.

That fence was then promptly taken by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA)—a government agency that controls much of Southern California’s wilderness and is led by longtime Executive Director Joe Edmiston, who has built a reputation in Malibu for often seemingly overreaching his bounds to acquire more land. 

Now, two weeks later, the beach still lies open. 

Mayor Paul Grisanti explained to The Malibu Times that the laborers had been hired by a group of residents from the nearby neighborhoods of Carbon and La Costa beaches. 

“The fence was ratty … people were cutting holes in it,” Grisanti described. “So [the homeowners] decided that the best thing to do would be to put up a new fence and they didn’t bother to get a permit or speak to the owner of the property.”

Grisanti said the MRCA had ticketed one person responsible for taking down the fence and taken a witness statement that named the other members of the group. Grisanti declined to share the ticketed person’s identity.

The MRCA sent The Malibu Times a page of information that echoed Grisanti’s story. It said that on May 7, 2021, MRCA rangers interviewed a group of neighbors “who admit[ted] to illegally removing the former fence” without the MRCA’s permission. 

“Neighbors allege City of Malibu’s public works director authorized this action,” the MRCA’s information continued. 

It stated later that on May 17, Malibu city staff told the MRCA it had not authorized the fence removal. In an email to The Malibu Times on Tuesday, Malibu Public Works Director Rob Duboux confirmed that the city had not authorized the fence removal.

Caltrans owns PCH and the frontage along it, Grisanti said. But the actual beach is state property. Information provided by the MRCA stated that the organization acquired the land in 2003 for $1.2 million. 

Grisanti told The Malibu Times he believed the MRCA has been working for years on a proposal to open the beach more to the public. In fact, Grisanti believes the MRCA will present that proposal—which includes plans to open a dozen or so Malibu beaches in total—at a June Malibu City Council meeting. MRCA spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.

For now, residents are furious and concerned about the wide open beach. 

“It’s extremely dangerous to open the beach without discourse and without planning for the very fragile ecosystem,” one resident, Laurie Zoloth, said during public comment at the Monday, May 10, Malibu City Council meeting. 

According to Zoloth, visitors had been defecating in the rocks at the beach, which lacks toilet facilities. 

Zoloth and others warned council of a litany of dangers, from a rock scramble to riptides and stingrays.

Several also mentioned how the La Costa spot on PCH is a blind curve—many called it “Dead Man’s Curve”—and the site of many accidents.

Still others were worried about tourists not understanding wildlife safety. Another resident, Elliot Shoenman, said a large sea lion had recently crawled up on the beach; Shoenman was concerned about visitors getting too close to a potentially dangerous animal like that to take photos. 

Stephanie Landes later clarified Shoenman’s point: the sea lion was decapitated, she said. People had picnicked next to its carcass, a sight Landes called “unappealing.”

“We have to finally stand up to the MRCA,” Scott Dittrich, another local, implored. 

“If we don’t stand together on this as a community, as a city, they will forever change the face of Malibu,” he later added.

Grisanti said he told the La Costa residents that the City of Malibu did not have the jurisdiction to put up another fence, but the city attorney was meeting with the MRCA’s lawyers to find a solution. 

At the most recent Malibu City Council meeting, interim Malibu City Manager Steve McClary confirmed his staff had reached out to the MRCA: “[City] staff has reached out to staff with the state, with MRCA, also with the coastal commission staff,” McClary said Monday, adding that they had “relayed concerns” about parking and safety on the eve of the busy summer tourist season.

“The homeowners would like to come up with a solution that results in a temporary fence being placed as soon as possible,” Grisanti told The Malibu Times. He said a man had reportedly tried to break into a resident’s house recently; when the man was confronted, he said he really needed to use the bathroom.

Grisanti encouraged homeowners to call the sheriff’s department to report any trespassers or suspicious activity on the beach. 

“The MRCA is creating a nuisance … At some point, the sheriff’s department will send letters to the MRCA and/or the people who originally took down the fence and notify them that their actions have caused a lot of extra law enforcement and as a result they’re going to file for reimbursement,” the mayor concluded. 

After The Malibu Times went to print on Tuesday, the MRCA provided the following statement: The MRCA does not have plans to bring any public access proposal to the Malibu City Council in June.