A stone "fort" used by a group of fiercely territorial surfers in Palos Verdes Estates will be dismantled and carted away under a plan approved by the city's elected leaders Tuesday.
The council's unanimous decision came despite strong opposition by residents, who urged their elected leaders "not to buckle" in the face of the California Coastal Commission. That agency has urged the city to remove the unpermitted facility or seek approval by proposing a package of measures to improve public access and reduce harassment.
Witnesses accuse the Bay Boys surfer gang of congregating at the three-decade-old structure and bombarding outsiders with dirt clods, slashing their tires and assaulting them in the water — sometimes coordinating the attacks with walkie-talkies.
Police reports over the years show that the illegal palapa has repeatedly been a site of alleged drug and alcohol use.
But dozens of residents said the community has embraced the site as a community landmark, and some said it had been a beloved location for weddings and memorial services.
The Bay Boys who congregate there are "not a gang. It is a club," said resident Pat Stolz, who urged the city to preserve the structure. "We don't want crowds. Think twice when someone comes in and tells you what to do."
Another resident, Stanton Hunton, said the Bay Boys "are very pleasant people" and told the council members, "don't succumb to the Coastal Commission."
Hunton said the city should also block a Coastal Commission proposal to improve public access with better pathways, benches, viewing binoculars and other amenities.
"Why the city would allow the Coastal Commission to strong-arm it to allow in nonresidents who don't know the perils of that cliff is beyond me," he said.
The patio structure consists of cemented stone retaining walls, a cemented stone patio with a stone table, fire pit, a stone bench and a wooden canopy, and an adjacent seating area with a wooden bench covered by a wood-frame palm frond canopy.
City staffers said they plan to hire a contractor for about $50,000 to take jackhammers to the structure and carry away the pieces.
Staffers recommended the plan after meetings with representatives of the Lunada Bay Homeowners Assn., which urged the city to preserve the stone structure, and the Surfrider Foundation, which has pressured the city to take concerns about harassment more seriously.
City attorneys said that permitting the structure would mean that the city would also need to maintain it and assume liability for anyone who is hurt there.
"The truth of the matter is that the city does not want to own a structure like this. We can't afford to own a structure like this," said Councilman James D. Vandever.
In response to the city's plan to remove the structure, the Coastal Commission sent a letter to the city saying it was encouraged by the decision but still planned to press for more improvements to public access.
The city missed a July 6 deadline to submit a public access improvement plan, and Coastal Commission Enforcement Officer Jordan Sanchez said the agency continues to "hope that improving access amenities, including such things as benches and educational signage, would benefit all members of public, including the local residents."
6:00 p.m.: This story was updated with Coastal Commission response.