A few weeks ago Jeff wrote about an elderly couple on Mykonos being hassled by a rent-a-cop, for allegedly trespassing a private sightline because they were looking at the sea, over a privately owned seawall.
For the past forty years, people attempting to walk or sit on public beaches in Malibu have been hassled by wealthy beachfront homeowners and their rent-a-cops, some of whom are motorized infantry.
|Malibu Private Patrol|
Which is, what's the word, illegal.
And we're not even talking about giving the public access to the whole width of the beach. By law, the easements for these shoreline properties give the homeowners privacy rights on the sand above the high tide line. The rabble—anybody who can't afford to shell out twenty, thirty, forty million or more to build a weekend getaway—are only entitled to sully the damp part of the beach. Yet for many Malibu homeowners that's an intolerable intrusion, even if it is, what's the word, legal.
Plus which many of those same building permits require homeowners to provide access from the road out front—the Pacific Coast Highway—to the beaches. But a significant number have ignored that requirement. Most famously, multimedia mogul David Geffen.
He signed an agreement in 1983 to build a vertical easement—an accessway to the beach—in exchange for a permit to build a swimming pool. After the pool was completed Geffen filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement.
A mere twenty-two years of bad publicity later, Geffen backed down; the gates to the accessway were opened in 2005. Part of the bad publicity had been a series of Doonesbury comic strips, in which the resident stoner/surfer Zonker participated in demonstrations to liberate the beaches (below the high tide line). When the matter was finally resolved, this victory strip appeared:
Later, in real life, a beach accessway near the Malibu Pier was consecrated in Zonk's fictional honor.
Geffen, though, is hardly alone in his attempts to assert sovereignty over a slice of the Pacific shore. California Coastal Commission guidelines call for an accessway every 1000 feet. In Malibu, that works out to 105 passages. Right now there are 17. Since 1973, homeowners have signed 29 agreements to provide vertical easements on their property. Nine have opened. Twenty remain neck-deep in lawsuit quicksand.
But wait, there's more. Various beachfront residents, even some whose properties contain vertical easements, try to make using them as difficult as possible, through a combination of locked gates, camouflage and mendacity. Not just about the beach access, but about public parking spaces that have mysteriously sprouted NO PARKING signs, or been barricaded by orange traffic cones like those used by road crews. And my favorite: fake driveways, to fool motorists into thinking that parking in front of them is verboten.
But this summer a digital Joan of Arc has ridden to the rescue. Or as the locals know her, Jenny of Venice. Well, originally of St. Louis.
Jenny Price is an environmental scholar/journalist (she has something called a PhD, from someplace called Yale), who's written extensively about Malibu Beach Imperialism. And now she's become a political apptivist.
She joined forces with a firm called Escape Apps. They mounted a Kickstarter campaign that raised thirty thousand dollars, which they're using to create Our Malibu Beaches, an app that will be given away free all this summer.
Our Malibu Beaches is a guide to all the legal ways to get to the legally public beach—and a guide to all the illegal scams which can be legally ignored.
So if you're going to San Francisco be sure to wear a flower in your hair, and bring a fully loaded wallet, that town is pricey. If you're going to Los Angeles be sure to load Jenny's Malibu beach app in your phone, if you're in the mood to insert yourself into some billionaire's vertical easement.