As harassment allegations increased against a surfer gang known as the "Bay Boys," Palos Verdes Estates officials dismissed the problem as "urban legend" and discussed ways to avoid further public and media scrutiny, correspondence obtained by The Times shows.
The messages among City Manager Tony Dahlerbruch, Police Chief Jeff Kepley and City Council members indicate that city leaders repeatedly downplayed the alleged harassment by the Bay Boys against other surfers at Lunada Bay. The documents were obtained through the California Public Records Act.
Beachgoers and witnesses have accused the Bay Boys, some of whom are reportedly middle-aged, of bombarding outsiders with dirt clods, slashing their tires and assaulting them in the water — sometimes coordinating the attacks with walkie-talkies.
One alleged victim said she was sexually harassed and doused with beer in retaliation for appearing in a news article about the problems.
Earlier this year, an El Segundo police officer who says he has been harassed by the Bay Boys joined other alleged victims in a class-action lawsuit.
The officer, Cory Spencer, and Diana Milena Reed, the alleged harassment victim, asked a federal judge to prevent members of the gang from congregating at Lunada Bay, one of the state's most coveted surf breaks. The suit also targets the city of Palos Verdes Estates, asking a judge to require officials to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by the group of surfers.
The exchanges show that when Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Torrance) had a conference call with city officials earlier this year, offering to intervene with state resources, Dahlerbruch and other Palos Verdes Estates leaders rejected the overture, saying they feared it would draw more media attention.
Kepley rejected recommendations from former law enforcement officers from other areas on ways to police the matter more aggressively with sting operations and more frequent patrols, according to an email he sent to a council member.
"This is an old story and one that I do not consider news or worthy of news coverage," Kepley wrote in a memorandum that also conceded that the Police Department had done "likely not enough" to rid Lunada Bay of harassment.
Kepley declined to comment for this report.
In a March meeting with California Coastal Commission staffers trying to promote public access, city officials argued that the problem was merely "urban legend," according to a memorandum Dahlerbruch wrote to the City Council.
Critics have long argued that locals treat the rock and sand shore at Lunada Bay as if it were their own private beach. The commission staffers suggested ways to make sure people from outside the city can get to the water, including improved trails and better signage.
Councilman James F. Goodhart said in an interview that none of the public access proposals have received consideration from the council.
The commission staffers had also said Palos Verdes Estates needs to remove or get permits for a stone fort illegally built by some of the Bay Boys at the shore's edge.
In another piece of correspondence, Dahlerbruch told the council that the Lunada Bay Homeowners Assn. is urging the city to focus on policing the bullying in hopes that "the existence and use of the patio becomes irrelevant."
Goodhart said no staff recommendations to permit the fort or tear it down have since been delivered to the council.
In a memorandum, Dahlerbruch reported to the council that he also made a personal visit to the fort, where he received a friendly greeting and was offered a beer. He did not respond to subsequent questions about whether the illegal alcohol use resulted in a police response, and the city declined to immediately respond to a request for any related police reports.
The lawsuit against the city alleges that some of the trouble has been alcohol-fueled.
The city's municipal code prohibits alcohol consumption at public spaces, including Lunada Bay. "It doesn't bother me if they are drinking beer there," Goodhart said. "I don't know if it's illegal or not on our coastline."
Said Kurt A. Franklin, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs: "The problem of violence directed at non-resident beachgoers at Lunada Bay is real.... If blaming victims of perpetuating an 'urban legend' is the official position of Palos Verdes Estates, it is disappointing."
The hostility toward outsiders is not unique to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Surf breaks in Hawaii, Oxnard, La Jolla and Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County have similar reputations. In Lunada Bay's case, it's the rocky reef and points of land on both sides that helped earn its prized status, allowing waves to unspool as one ridable ribbon.
And news about a group of largely affluent white surfers in a placid community of multimillion-dollar homes terrorizing less privileged, multicultural outsiders has generated stories in publications around the world.
Some in the community have pressured city officials to support the Bay Boys or at least to refrain from caving in to demands that Palos Verdes make it easier for nonresidents to visit the stretch of public beach.
"What threat are the Bay Boys to our city?" Robert Van Dine, a longtime resident of Palos Verdes Estates, wrote in an email to the City Council. "The argument can actually be made that they keep a cap on crime."
In a note to the city manager and police chief, Councilman Goodhart acknowledged the residents' concerns. Regarding the media focus on the Bay Boys, he said: "We need to be smart about this unprecedented attack on our city."
Palos Verdes Estates, he said, should consider not communicating with reporters to send a message that it would not tolerate "sensationalizing stories about our city."
In recent weeks, the police chief and city manager have stopped answering questions from The Times about Lunada Bay.
Complaints about the gang go back years. But videos that surfaced last year have fueled new debate about access to the area.
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