For more than a quarter century, a choice surf spot on the Palos Verdes peninsula has been jealously guarded by locals intent on keeping the waves to themselves. The stories of visitors being bullied and intimidated — and sometimes even subjected to vandalism and violence — by generations of so-called Lunada Bay Boys have changed little over that time.
And above it all stands an illegal stone perch — a fort, some call it — on the water’s edge where the members of this exclusive upper-middle-class surf gang congregate to check the swell, talk about the waves they caught, do drugs and drink alcohol (according to police reports) and, perhaps, celebrate their long reign over this watery domain.
The fort is a monument to their warped sense of entitlement, and it’s high time it came down.
Far too long. An editorial in The Times on July 6, 1991, lamented the same distressing territoriality and noted that if “black or Chicano kids tried to stake out a stretch of beach as ‘ours,’ the authorities would dub them a gang and be down on them in a flash. So what makes the surfers at Lunada Bay any different?”
A good question then, it remains so now. And we might still have been asking ourselves that question in 2041 were it not for an undercover video by Guardian journalistslast summer showing the world what was going on at this locally infamous stretch of beach, and the subsequent filing of a class-action lawsuit by people who say they were harassed and intimated by locals. Then the California Coastal Commission intervened and warned the city of Palos Verdes Estates that it must bring the unpermitted “fort” to code and improve accessibility to the water, or tear the structure down. City’s leaders have decided on the latter, and it’s the right choice.
Although the Lunada Bay Boys’ conduct has been egregious, they’ve hardly been the only Californians to exhibit a distorted sense of ownership about the coastline. Similar scenes of conflict occurred up and down the coast as locally beloved surf spots grew crowded and those who lived nearby felt they had a right and even a responsibility to protect a particular stretch. Beachfront residents too have struggled to accept the idea of public access, though generally they have resorted to building fences and installing gates rather than threatening visitors. In Malibu in particular, wealthy homeowners have tried to for years to deny public access to the beach and keep the sand and surf to themselves.
Many of these folks may acknowledge that the state of California owns the beach from the high-tide line down to the water, but they don’t seem to recognize the implication: that the public must be able to reach and use what it owns. The state Constitution guarantees the public access to the Pacific Ocean and all other navigable waters; the Coastal Act calls for that access to be maximized, and bars anyone from blocking routes to the water that were “acquired through use or legislative authorization.” For Palos Verdes Estates residents to treat a section of the ocean as if it were a private neighborhood park is not just illegal, it’s absurd.
Demolishing this pile of rocks won’t necessarily stop the local surfers from engaging in bad behavior. That will take consistent enforcement by local police. But it will send a powerful message to locals — and perhaps to surf “gangs” in other communities — that their proximity to the coast doesn’t give them the right to keep people out, and that visitors should not have to risk bodily harm to exercise their legal right to ride the waves.