The California Coastal Commission agreed Wednesday to a settlement proposed by entertainment mogul David Geffen to end decades of wrangling over public access to the beach at his Malibu estate.
The 12-member commission unanimously agreed to forgive Geffen for mistakenly building a deck that intruded into a public easement over the sand in front of his beach complex in exchange for his opening a 42-foot stretch of beach that had been closed to the public.
The commissioners overruled their staff and agreed to let Geffen keep an improperly permitted wooden stairway to the beach and gave him a 10-foot wide "privacy" buffer so that beachgoers cannot legally slip beneath his deck or lean against the concrete bulkhead that divides the beach from a spa, lawn and cluster of Cape Cod-style bungalows.
The vote comes 24 years after Geffen first promised a public walkway to Carbon Beach, a playground for oceanfront residents that had been walled off from the public by shoulder-to-shoulder development along Pacific Coast Highway.
The agreement also ends five years of legal skirmishing over who controls the gates that allow access from the highway to the beach. The nonprofit Access For All will continue to take responsibility for opening Geffen's gates every day, closing them at night and picking up trash.
Steve Hoy, executive director of Access for All, urged the commissioners to give Geffen everything he wanted so he could put to rest the lawsuits and public sparring with Geffen's aides over public access which, at one point, inspired headlines across the U.S. and Europe as well as a Doonesbury cartoon strip.
Making the public easement uniform across 275 feet of Geffen's beachfront property, he said, would make it easier for members of the public to understand where they can walk or sunbathe. Currently, beachgoers have to skirt the 42-foot-long section to get to the public sand.
In addition, he said, he favored privacy buffers because nothing aggravates oceanfront property owners more than having strangers pressed up against their walls on busy days.
Since Access for All opened the public pathway in 1995, Hoy said, "Mr. Geffen and his staff have been excellent with us. They listen to us. They take out the trash bins for us. Everyone is learning to live with each other."
In addition to dedicating a new easement to the public, Geffen, a billionaire, has agreed to pay $125,000 into a special state public beach access fund and up to $20,000 to help Access for All build a metal ramp that will help the public get from the paved pathway to the sand. The beach has eroded in recent years, leaving a dangerous drop-off to the sand.
Commissioner Sara Wan, a longtime Malibu resident and champion of public beach access, said she recently toured Geffen's access way and decided to support building the ramp and Geffen's other proposals. She said the package is a good deal for the public.
Steven A. Amerikaner, an attorney handling Geffen's case, said his client "is very happy."
In the next few months, Amerikaner said, he will file paperwork to dedicate the swath of beach for public use and other related adjustments.
"We have entered a new era," Amerikaner said, "an era of cooperation."