Battle brewing over Lechuza Beach plan


A state agency wants to make improvements to a public beach access area that local residents say violate their homeowners association rules.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

The eight-year battle between a local homeowners association and a state agency over a public access enhancement plan proposed for an expensive piece of state-owned land at West Malibu’s Broad Beach could soon head to court.

The plan, proposed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, is comprised of several additions intended to improve public access to Lechuza Beach through three gates, which are located at the entrances of East Sea Level and West Sea Level drives, and across the street from Bunny Lane off Broad Beach Road. The Malibu-Encinal Homeowners Association owns the first two gates, while the latter gate is the property of the MRCA.

The MRCA purchased the land from developer Norm Haynie for $10 million in 2001 after receiving most of the purchase money from the State Coastal Conservancy. Since that time, there have been various disputes about the use of the beach, and whether it should be treated as public or private in circumstances such as hours of access.

Though the MRCA owns the easement on which it seeks to make the improvements, the Malibu-Encinal Homeowners Association says the state agency is not legally entitled to do so because the plan interferes with easement rights granted by the association to each homeowner in the neighborhood. The easement rights (also known as covenants, conditions and restrictions) are only enforced by the HOA, and do not trump city law. Thus, the MRCA held a meeting on Wednesday this week (after this paper went to print) to authorize its intention to amend the HOA’s rules to allow it to proceed with its plan. The amendments will not be effective unless approved in court.

Councilmember Andy Stern, a Broad Beach resident and member of the Malibu-Encinal HOA, in a phone interview Tuesday called the MRCA’s efforts to change the HOA rules “laughable,” but said that if the MRCA succeeded in amending the covenants, conditions and restrictions, “I guess we’ll go to court.

“The MRCA didn’t do their research,” Stern said. “They thought they bought more than they purchased. We [the HOA] have easements over their property. They are acting like we don’t, but we do. They did not purchase that right and we don’t intend to give it to them.”

Furthermore, the plan has yet to be voted on in a mandatory public hearing by the Planning Commission, whose decision can be appealed to the City Council. The council’s decision can then be appealed to the California Coastal Commission.

The plan includes the addition of four handicap parking spaces, a new coastal viewing area at West Sea Level Drive, reconstruction of the existing view platform and stairs to the beach at West Sea Level Drive, a new view platform at East Sea Level Drive, reconstruction of existing stairs, and a new gate and new signage at the entrance of the state-owned property.

A member of the City Planning Division on Tuesday said the MRCA’s plan could directly impact some homeowners, as the implementation of new parking spaces would require street widening, which would eliminate existing guest parking and some landscaping. The city planner also echoed the HOA’s mistrust that the MRCA would enforce rules included in its plan, which prohibit loitering on the beach between midnight and 6 a.m., smoking, dogs, littering, alcoholic beverages and fires.

But MRCA Executive Officer Joe Edmiston on Monday said the HOA’s rejection of the plan is an act of NIMBYism.

“Malibu-Encinal Homeowners Association appears ready to sue us potentially to take the beach back and re-privatize the beach,” Edmiston said in a phone interview.

Malibu-Encinal HOA President Lisa Pallack on Tuesday deferred a call from The Malibu Times to the HOA’s lawyer Rick Davis, who did not immediately return calls made the same day.

Stern said Tuesday he had not heard of any plans for the HOA to file a lawsuit, and, in response to Edmiston’s accusation of NIMBY-ism, that “nothing could be further from the truth. In 1991 our association opened up the beach to the public at no cost to the state, and they’ve continued to have public access.

“The public is always welcome to Lechuza Beach, we just don’t want him [Edmiston] taking our property rights away that he didn’t purchase,” Stern said. “Ask him to show you in his deed the right to purchase the street. He simply cannot.”