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Beach access bingo

The Occupy L.A. group that camped out at City Hall for months before being ejected in late November may have chosen the wrong venue: Not only would protesting in Malibu have been more scenic, it would have more appropriately symbolized the group’s struggle against the unfairnesses perpetrated by the 1% — such as the refusal by certain super-wealthy individuals to allow public access to public beaches.

A recent report by the California Coastal Commission showed that some progress has been made across the state in improving access to the 1,100-mile shoreline, whose wet sands and craggy tide pools are part of the birthright of all Californians and cannot be privately owned below the high tide line. But the progress is slight in Malibu, where battles have been raging for decades between property owners and members of the public who want to use the beaches. Los Angeles County lags behind every other county in Southern California when it comes to building agreed-upon paths to the beach, and the problem is centered in Malibu.

The state can’t compel property owners to build stairways to the sand, but it can force them to provide easements through their property for beach access in exchange for granting development or improvement permits. In L.A. County there are 34 such easements, but on 21 of them — all in Malibu — paths have yet to be constructed, according to the Coastal Commission.

That’s not entirely the result of intransigence from homeowners. In many of the cases, no public agency has stepped forward to build and maintain the paths. The county took responsibility for that job until the mid-1980s, but budget constraints compelled it to stop. Meanwhile, though, property owners have made matters worse by stealthily putting up barriers across the easements to block access, and in at least one dramatic case, a homeowner is using the courts to prevent a willing agency from constructing a stairway.

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The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority is seeking to build a path to Carbon Beach down a 10-foot-wide easement through Lisette Ackerberg’s Pacific Coast Highway property, which she agreed to preserve after getting a development permit in the mid-1980s. Yet Ackerberg has put up numerous barriers, including a 9-foot-high wall, a tennis court and a generator. She defied a 2009 order by the Coastal Commission to clear the right of way and, when a Superior Court judge issued a similar order last July, filed an appeal that will block construction indefinitely.

Ackerberg, like other Malibu obstructionists, has no right to a fully private beach. With her case tied up in court, public shaming seems the only way to compel her to do the right thing — unless Occupiers are in the mood for an extended clambake.


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