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Column: A new skirmish in the battle for Malibu beach access

Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the California Coastal Commission, stands where a security guard asked her to leave because the beach is private -- it's not. She is photographed with a dog belonging to a local resident.

Noaki Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the California Coastal Commission, stands where a security guard asked her to leave because the beach is private -- it’s not. She is photographed with a dog belonging to a local resident.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The weather forecast is terrific. The water is unusually warm. And the greatest show in California is free except for the parking.

But if you’re headed to the beach this holiday weekend, beware the killjoys who might try to boot you off the sand, especially in Malibu.

Yes, I know. You’ve heard this story before, given the long history of clashes between high and mighty and the hoi polloi. But the class struggle continues, and I’ve got the latest from the front lines.

I should confess that I once threatened to stage a Sand Aid concert and fight for access to the beach in front of NIMBY mogul David Geffen’s compound. And I’m the guy who banged on Sam Zell’s door in the Lechuza Beach area several years ago when that swaggering varmint bought the L.A. Times’ parent company and promptly drove it into bankruptcy.

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I simply wanted to know what Zell thought about taxpayers forking over $10 million for a glorious stretch of sand that we couldn’t enjoy, thanks to homeowners’ efforts to keep the beach a secret. Zell wasn’t home, but got wind of my visit and accused me of harassing his housekeeper. Then and now, Sam, wherever you are, I’m just doing my job.

And so I’d like to report that on Aug. 29, Noaki Schwartz went to lovely Escondido Beach, near Geoffrey’s restaurant, with her 6-year-old daughter and a friend. But this was not entirely a recreational outing. Schwartz is a spokeswoman for the California Coastal Commission, which had received complaints from beachgoers — going back to 2006 — who had been rousted by a security guard and booted by sheriff’s deputies. So she was there to test the waters.

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FOR THE RECORD

Sept. 5, 2:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said Noaki Schwartz went to Escondido Beach on Aug. 30. She went on Aug. 29.

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It was like going fishing, and Schwartz caught a lunker almost immediately. A uniformed security guard approached, carrying a clipboard.

“He said I was on private property and I was essentially in these people’s backyards,” said Schwartz, who found it amusing that he quoted Coastal Commission literature to make his case.

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As a matter of fact, she told him, she had every right to be where she was. The public has a right to be between the mean high tide line and the water. The line moves by day and season, but generally speaking, if the sand is wet, it’s public beach.

Schwartz was carrying a map and showed the guard she was also in front of a house with a public easement. In other words, at this location, even dry sand was public beach.

The guard didn’t budge. He told Schwartz that if she didn’t scram, he’d ring up sheriff’s deputies and she could be fined $1,500. The guard walked away briefly, presumably to call deputies. When he returned, Schwartz — a former Times reporter whose husband is a current Times reporter — told him she happened to be a commission rep.

He didn’t seem impressed. Schwartz saw him boot two young women off the beach and then come back at her with two deputies, in case you were wondering what kind of serious crime-fighting your tax dollars are paying for.

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“They basically said that as far as they knew, the area was private,” Schwartz said of the deputies. “And I said, ‘Well, no, actually it’s not.’ ”

The deputies took her business card and stood down, but told her to email them proof that it was legal for her to be there.

Here’s a thought:

How about if sheriff’s deputies research the law and enforce it properly, rather than act as free armed guards for millionaires?

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When I visited the beach with Schwartz, a homeowner strolled by. He wouldn’t give his name but said guards have worked for the Escondido Beach Homeowners Assn. for several years to prevent rowdiness, break-ins, trespassing, urinating and littering.

I have no doubt that some of the visitors are knuckleheads, but when you choose to live a few steps from a national treasure that’s owned by the public, shouldn’t you expect a few headaches?

“I’ve lived there 15 years and we don’t do anything to keep anybody off,” claimed Jeff Light of the homeowners association, who said the guards’ primary duty was to prevent illegal parking on the private road to the houses. “It’s not like Billionaires’ Beach where they closed off all access and put up fences and didn’t even let anyone walk on the beach.”

Don’t you love it when millionaires take shots at billionaires?

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If homeowners are on edge, it may be because since 2013, the Our Malibu Beaches app has clarified where sunbathers can go if they would like to avoid the crowds at Zuma or other overrun areas.

Jenny Price, who introduced the app, had a fabulous op-ed piece in Friday’s Times in which she called county officials the worst culprits in denying beach access. Dan Blocker and El Sol beaches have been under county control for decades, but you can’t get to them. As Price noted, former Disney poobah Michael Eisner and his neighbors on El Sol have resisted efforts to build a stairway to the beach.

Price alerted me to some unfriendly signs posted by homeowners at the south end of El Matador State Beach, so I paid a visit. If you were to read the warnings, you would think it was illegal to stroll, take pictures or climb rocks.

“This Is Our Yard Down to Ocean!” says one. “Please Do Not Hang, Smoke, Drink, Party, Scream, in Our Yard!!!! Respect the Beach.”

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First of all, that’s not true. Wet sand is public sand.

Secondly, the house bearing that sign is one of numerous hideous monstrosities in Malibu. I’m thinking of printing up signs for sunbathers to plant in the sand.

“This is our coastline! Please respect it by immediately removing the grotesque architectural crime you call a house!!!!”

Price also tipped me about Aaron Crow, who got a ticket Aug. 15 for parking next to Geffen’s house on Pacific Coast Highway.

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Crow, 42, a software engineer who lives on the campus of Mount Saint Mary’s University, told me he knew from having toured Malibu with Price that Geffen’s property has curb cutaways for garages, even where there are no garages. It looks like there are, but it’s just solid wall made to look like garage doors. So Crow parked there, and then made his case as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy began writing him a $53 ticket.

“Do you understand that’s a fake driveway?” Crow asked the deputy.

The deputy kept writing, and now Crow will contest the ticket in court.

We’ve got to stand with him, folks. This isn’t about a parking ticket, it’s about taking back the beach, no matter how expensive the legal fight may be.

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Anyone up for a Sand Aid concert?

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATstevelopez

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