Lost Pathways to California Beaches

By | January 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm | No comments

Photo of private beach path in Malibu, CA by beachhouse.malibu via flickr

California Coastal Commission members were surprised to find out that a large amount of Los Angeles County’s most desirable beaches were not being used by the public. In order to see what the problem was for themselves, they went on a bus tour that lead to some disappointing answers.

This month the California Coastal Commission went on an unorthodox tour of the Malibu coast where many public beaches are not being used by the public. Their mission was to figure out why this issue is occurring. On the four-hour long trip, they made their way up the coast from the usually busy and crowded Santa Monica State Beach to the northern end of Malibu. Stops along the way had dismal results, insufficient access, fake “no parking (signs residents used to keep beachgoers at bay),” and movie shoots taking up most – if not all – of beach parking lots. On top of all this, they also found that there are more than 20 pathways missing to beaches, that were set aside on paper (some of them decades ago) but have yet to be built. For example, an “on-paper” pathway to Carbon Beach was blocked by a massive generator, a 9-foot-high wall and a tennis court. Or at Dan Blocker County Beach, the piece of land donated to the public in 1979 remains partly fenced off and difficult to reach. Broad Beach, which is a patchwork of public and private sand, has been an area of conflict for years. Homeowners have posted misleading, “private beach,” signs and even gone to the extreme of hiring private security guards to drive around on ATVs and remove visitors.

State coastal officials say they lack the funds and staff to open and maintain public access paths and must attempt to forge partnerships with local agencies to construct and operate the walkways before the agreements expire. In the meantime, The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, currently maintains five paths in the Malibu area and is in the process of building a sixth. They are enthusiastic about working with the state to open the remaining access-ways. Unfortunately the pathways required by the Coastal Commission are a small portion of the more than 850 access points run by local and state agencies, nonprofits and some private landowners up and down the coast, but they are often some of the most hard-won.

Legal roadblocks to gain pathway access are sometimes the worst culprit. Efforts to build public walkways to beaches in Malibu are often met with landowner lawsuits which can go through litigation for up to fifteen years. According to a new report by the Coastal Commission, the 12-member panel charged with policing development and ensuring public access along the state’s 1,100-mile shoreline lags behind every other county in Southern California when it comes to opening public path to the sea. This leads to denying safe access to public beaches for years and years. Their report also showed that 60% of the 111 strips of land the commission has required landowners to offer for public access from San Diego to San Luis Obispo counties have been built and opened compared with 38% in Los Angeles County. It’s a poor showing from a county that has a tourist base that comes specifically to spend time at Southern California beaches.

At the end of the day, public beaches are for the public. They are a place where people can enjoy being outside in nature. The public should have access to these beautiful places, and people like the Coastal Commission are making sure not only that we do have access, but generations beyond us do too.


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