Storming the Beach at Malibu: Topangan Steve Hoye is Leading the Charge for Access for All

By Susan Chasen

In Malibu, even the dogs are in the real estate game. "Darby" and "Spot" know how to pick'em. Darby's pick of the month for July in Homes & Land magazine under the caption "Life's a Beach" is a relatively affordable condo just steps from "your own private beach."

But wait a minute Darby, Topanga's coastal access activist Steve Hoye says life may be a beach, but it's not a "private beach." Contrary to the many "private property" and "private beach" signs along the Malibu coast, the sand on the ocean side of the mean high-tide line is public sand.

VOL.26 NO. 15
JULY 25 - AUGUST 7, 2001



Steve Hoye, founder of Access for All, at Malibu's Broad Beach with a "private property" sign that he says misrepresents the public's access rights.

The problem of getting to these beaches, however, reverts to the original "life's a b**** " axiom.

That's where Steve Hoye's non-profit organization, Access for All, comes in. Hoye, who moved to Topanga eight years ago, a refugee from two years in Malibu, is championing the beach-access cause because he believes Malibu is defying the California Coastal Act--which calls for maximum public access to the coast--in favor of development interests.

Currently there are about seven miles of public beach in Malibu, comprising a fifth of the county's 35 miles of public beach. Malibu's 27 miles, however, comprise a third of the county's 81-mile coastline.

In Hoye's view, Malibu is overrun with fortune-hunting, real-estate speculators. Even one of the private lifeguards on Broad Beach revealed that he too has a real estate license, said Hoye.

At Broad Beach, the quiet expanse of clean sand is uninterrupted but for the county access path, established decades ago. Security guards are employed to politely keep visitors corralled into the 20-foot-wide cordoned-off public pathway which is dotted with colored beach bags and towels along the edges. From there, visitors head for the surf or keep close to the water's edge, fanning out only slightly from the access path area.

Hoye hangs from the gates at the Malibu Colony, which he expects to be the last bastion of private Malibu beach dwellers.

Even so, says Hoye, the visitors are often met with: "Who are you and what are you doing here? This is a private beach."

Signs tell visitors where they must not step. Beach homeowners have determined the mean high-tide line--the midpoint between the two daily high tides--that defines the ocean-side boundary of their property. This allows public access to the wet sand area, but during the higher of the two daily high tides, public access along the beach is cut off.

Compared with other exclusive Malibu beaches, with no access at all from the street, Broad Beach is a plebeian paradise.

But according to Hoye, there's more beach to Broad Beach than meets the eye. He says there are lateral beach access easements along a third of the beachfront properties on Broad Beach--all offered in exchange for coastal development permits.

"That's what I'd like to see on every beach in Malibu. One out of three [lots] has a lateral easement," said Hoye.

These easements could significantly widen portions of many exclusive beaches if the public knew about them. There are over 100 lateral easements along Malibu beaches and nine vertical accesses to the street that have not been opened.

According to Hoye, the city of Malibu does not want these beaches opened. Access for All does.

"It's a city of beaches and they want to keep it all to themselves," said Hoye. "They despise the public."

Beachfront homeowners, including several city officials, say they oppose opening new access ways because there are no restrooms, lifeguards and parking. But Hoye points out that the county's 11 access ways have been operating for decades without those facilities.

"The city of Malibu does not accept its visitor serving role," said Hoye.

"What they do want is to develop every single lot in Malibu so they can all make a s***load of money....They say 'Oh we believe in access, just this is the wrong spot.' We need access everywhere," said Hoye.

"I want to access every impenetrable beach."

If he has to, says Hoye, he will fight a battle of the signs to inform visitors of the beach easements.

The city of Malibu has no great love for Hoye and his organization. But its real enemy is the California Coastal Commission which has granted Access for All the authority to open new access points.

Currently, the Coastal Commission is putting the final touches on a Local Coastal Program for Malibu, containing a host of controversial land-use regulations and coastal access goals. It was supposed to be prepared by the city itself, but the state Legislature didn't believe Malibu would get the job done and so gave it to the Coastal Commission instead.

In a remarkable move that reflects Malibu's general apoplexy over the Coastal Commission's takeover of its planning authority, the city has joined in a lawsuit on behalf of one of its esteemed citizens who happens to be a prominent target of Access for All's campaign--Dreamworks SKG partner and major Democratic political contributor--David Geffen.

The joint lawsuit against Access for All, the California Coastal Commission and the state Coastal Conservancy seeks to prevent a vertical access easement from Pacific Coast Highway to Carbon Beach along the edge of Geffen's property and three lateral easements along the beach in front of Geffen's house from being opened.

Geffen and Malibu contend that opening these individual access ways is improperly piecemeal. They should instead be part of a coordinated, statewide coastal access program, and environmental analysis should consider possible impacts. Also, Geffen and Malibu are challenging the arrangement that allows private non-profit organizations like Access for All to open up the pathways, describing them as "neither qualified nor authorized" to do so.

Geffen offered the easements, known as "offers to dedicate" or "OTDs" over a 17-year period in exchange for a series of development permits for his expanding beachfront property and seawall construction.

In January, Access for All officially "accepted" Geffen's OTD easements, after a management plan was reviewed and approved by Coastal Commission staff. Thus Access for All is authorized to open and maintain a nine-foot-wide access way along Geffen's property to Carbon Beach.

Access for All also has assumed responsibility for three "lateral" easements extending for 275 feet along the beach in front of Geffen's house, located about five miles up coast from the Topanga intersection. According to Hoye, the lateral easements are 100-foot-wide strips from the mean high-tide boundary to a 10-foot buffer along Geffen's house--though for one easement, the 10-foot buffer was not stipulated.

"I agree with the 10-foot privacy buffer," said Hoye. "We don't want the public to place their back on Mr. Geffen's wall."

While battling a super-rich Malibu Democrat over public access to the beach has its obvious charms, Hoye insists he is not just out for publicity.

"I'm just a guy who wants to walk on the beach at sunset with his daughter,"said Hoye. "The public has a right to walk on the beaches."

He isn't alone in his quest either. Several other non-profit groups up and down the coast are doing the same thing--taking developers up on their easement offers. Time is critical because the offers expire after 21 years. Many were made in the early 1980s and will expire soon.

Coastwalk, a non-profit group that advocates completion of the California Coastal Trail has "accepted" numerous easements along the coast, though none have yet been opened. A total of 57 easement offers have been "accepted" statewide by 10 non-profits and 15 have been opened. This involves opening and closing the access gates daily, monitoring their use and collecting trash. Access for All has eight easements, seven lateral and the unopened vertical access from PCH adjoining Geffen's house.

"If I had the keys to the gates, we could open this tomorrow," said Hoye.

In 1983, Geffen was given a permit to build a swimming pool and spa on his beachfront property along with a 100-foot-long bulkhead and a 950-square-foot garage and guest quarters addition. At that time he offered the vertical and one lateral easement.

Now Geffen and Malibu cite the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission which found that public access easements should not be required as a condition of development unless the project was cutting off existing access.

Geffen did not challenge his access offer at the time. In fact, he went on to make two more after 1987. The Coastal Commission does not believe the ruling invalidates earlier easement offers or subsequent ones that continued to be offered.

In 1991 and 2000, two more lateral easements were granted when Geffen acquired two additional parcels and sought permits for a 79-foot-long seawall and then an additional 46-foot-long bulkhead.

Geffen's vertical easement is important, says Hoye, because it is perfectly situated to open nearly 3.5 miles of impenetrable coast from Carbon Beach to La Costa and Big Rock beaches.

Up the coast, the closest public access, named "Zonker Harris" after a Doonesbury character, is nearly a mile away. Down coast, the closest access is about 2.3 miles at the county's Moonshadows access way, but it's been closed for nearly a year awaiting repairs. From there it is another third of a mile to the county's 20000 PCH access way.

Three other possible future access points to Carbon and La Costa beaches are: first, an easement adjoining a lot by the 76 Station, where a landowner is planning a condominium project; second, the unopened "Wayne" access site with a tree growing in the middle of it; and third--the pride of the unopened La Costa Beach access ways--the 80-foot opening from PCH to the water, given by former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan's wife Nancy Daly Riordan along with Eli Broad and Haim Saban.

The three Carbon Beach homeowners pooled their resources to the tune of $1 million to buy their way out of coastal requirements for retaining a glimmer of ocean view between newly constructed beach houses. Instead they purchased the 80-foot stretch of La Costa to be dedicated for public use.

The La Costa Beach Homeowners Association have blocked the opening of that access by successfully challenging in court the use of "off-site" mitigation to avoid compliance with coastal viewshed requirements. In this case, the loss of view is on Carbon Beach where Riordan, Broad and Saban live. The Coastal Commission is appealing that decision.

Several available OTDs are specifically earmarked to go to the county, but the county doesn't want them.

With seven miles of public beach in Malibu, it makes no sense to open new beaches where there are no lifeguards or sanitary facilities, says Greg Woodell, planning specialist with the county Beaches and Harbor Department.

"The county has been asked to pick some of them up and the county has said 'no,'" said Greg Woodell. "We've looked at them all....They're not real good.

"There are enough access ways out there," said Woodell. "No one can say you can't get to the coast."

When proponents of more access point to 11 existing county access ways that have functioned well without restrooms and lifeguards for years, Woodell disagrees.

"We get [complaint] calls from people that live out there all the time," said Woodell. Some stem from visitors relieving themselves on private property, he said.

"For someone to say there's no problem--it's not true."

The Coastal Act clearly sets "maximum public access to and along the coast" as a priority, as long as resources and private property rights are protected. But somehow the debate over balancing the impacts of beach-eroding seawall construction and private property rights has drifted into a debate over public access, over whether property developers who made access offers in exchange for public beach-damaging construction should honor them.

"The Coastal Act requires us to spread out coastal access, not just concentrate it in one area," says Linda Locklin, manager of the Coastal Commission's Coastal Access Program. "They've built their houses, but the access ways have yet to be constructed."

The value of the coast to the public, she explained, take many forms. Because all beaches are not the same, a variety of access points provides visitors experiences of different coastal settings. Every stroll on the beach does not require bathrooms and a hotdog stand, she said. Also, because these walks are already possible below the mean high tide line, frequent access points are a safety consideration because high tides can leave people stranded.

At the Coastal Commission hearing on the Malibu Local Coastal Program on July 10 in Huntington Beach, numerous speakers voiced support for the goal of opening up more coastal access in Malibu. The draft Local Coastal Program calls for vertical coastal access at 1,000-foot intervals where possible and promotes completion of the Malibu portion of the California Coastal Trail. This would amount to approximately 142 vertical access ways, without taking existing accesses and public beaches into account.

Civil rights attorney Robert Garcia with the Center for Law in the Public Interest spoke forcefully in favor of expanding beach access in Malibu at the Commission hearing.

"We are all interested in equal access to parks and recreation," said Garcia. He pointed out that support for Proposition 40, the $2.6 billion water, air, parks and coastal protection voter initiative of 2002, was higher among minority voters, with 77 percent of African-Americans supporting the measure, than among white voters. And yet, loss of bus service to beach communities and opposition to opening access ways are limiting opportunities for equal access.

"You need to make access to the beach a reality," said Garcia.

For Hoye's part, the LCP, on the access issue, couldn't be better.

"It's unbelievable how good it is," said Hoye. It will guide Malibu into accepting its visitor serving role, he says.

He said he won't be asking for all 142 access ways. "I'm asking for one per beach."

It's not really about swimming and recreation, he says. It's mostly about walking.

"It's a mental thing, knowing it's yours should you choose to go there."

Where beach-house owners believe "riffraff" will come and trash their beautiful pristine beaches, Hoye says he believes increasing public awareness and appreciation of the coastal resource will ultimately bring more support for protecting the coast against over-development.

"I'm interested in the balance between private property and public lands," said Hoye.

As for the Geffen-Malibu lawsuit against Access for All, which was established two years ago to take on this cause, Hoye said it won't slow him down.

"We're going to step on the gas," said Hoye. He anticipates that the three-member Access for All board--Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the Wetlands Action Network and biologist Roy van de Hoek--will vote soon to "accept" another vertical access easement, known as Ackerberg, between Geffen's place and Zonker Harris.

Also, there's the state's newest beach--17 contiguous beachfront lots just up coast from Broad Beach on Lechuza Beach, where there is presently no public access--only a private road, gated at both ends and a locked walkway open only to the neighborhood.

But back at pleasant Broad Beach, Suzanne Ponder, a public visitor from Kanan Dume Road, was intrigued by Hoye's campaign and the revelation that there were easements that could be opened along the beach.

"I've never been harassed. The guards are wonderful. But I've never brought my picnic basket and beach umbrella."

And when all the other battles are won, says Hoye, he might even take on the Malibu Colony. There's already been some progress. Once upon a time, the fence there went well out into the ocean. There are no vertical access offers there yet, but there are some lateral beach easements. And there's always the wet sand at low tide.


Topanga's Magic Bus


Next stop Bakersfield! Oops, it's LAX. Wrong again. Topanga's summer beach bus heads out daily at 9:20 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. from Topanga General Store.

By Tony Morris

It's summertime and the Topanga Canyon Summer Beach Bus is back. This convenient way to get from the Canyon to the beach will be running until September 2, Monday through Friday. And this year it's a luxury tour bus instead of a school bus.

Financed with funds provided by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, the bus fare is 50 cents one way for children and adults. Senior citizens and people with disabilities pay 25 cents. Riders under 12 years old must be accompanied by an adult. It runs twice a day to Topanga, Will Rogers and Santa Monica beaches and twice a day back. It leaves Topanga Center at 9:20 a.m. and 12:10 p.m., returning at 1:40 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. Other stops in Topanga include Viewridge and School Road. It originates in the Valley at Reseda and Ventura.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky's senior deputy Susan Nissman and the supervisor's office made sure that flyers have been distributed to all communities served by the bus.

"I run into young visitors and their grandparents and I remember how much fun it is to ride the bus to the beach," said Nissman.

Kathi Delegal, head of the county Public Works Special Events Transportation Program said that last year in the first 11 days 134 people rode the beach bus. This year, for the same period, the total was 181. From June 24 to July 17, there were 271 riders, she said.

"This service gives young people, adults and seniors a chance to get out of the house and go to the beach Monday through Friday," said Delegal. "As hot as it has been, it is a great opportunity."

For additional information and special assistance call (888) 769-1122.


Lower Topangans File Grievances

By Susan Chasen

The first Lower Topanga eviction date of July 1 has come and gone for those residents who received three-month notices to vacate in April. While numerous Lower Topanga residents have moved voluntarily, 13 with July eviction dates have filed grievances and, according to State Parks officials, will not be put out of their homes during the review of their cases.

Several residents were frightened by notices that State Parks officials would be coming for their keys on July 1--even some with agreed upon plans to move later this summer received the notice--but the grievances put a stop to keys- gathering day.

State Parks still has not provided 18 households, more than a quarter of the Lower Topanga community, with any information regarding their relocation compensation amounts or identified possible comparable housing for them.

So, despite months of anxiety about relocation, many residents still have no concrete figures to use in searching for new homes. Once they do, they will be expected to be out in three months--a time frame that residents have said from the start was not sufficient.

Residents also continue to report that re-inspections are being done and previously identified bedrooms are now being discounted--the fear is that compensation levels are being reduced accordingly.

State Parks officials currently project that everyone will have their relocation "letters of eligibility" by the end of July, with eviction dates at the end of October.

Thirteen residents, with eviction dates from July 1 to July 17, have filed grievances, according to State Parks spokesperson Roy Stearns. He said a three-person panel, composed of two Caltrans relocation officials and a relocation specialist with the state Housing and Community Development Department, is expected to hear the cases by the end of August.

"Our feeling is that our relocation plan allows for a grievance procedure and these people have a right to use it and exhaust this remedy," said Stearns. "We do not feel the plan is inadequate. We feel it addresses their needs and benefits."

In a previously submitted general grievance, attorney Craig Dummit identified numerous shortcomings in State Parks' relocation plan. A principal complaint is that the agency didn't design rules and regulations to address the unique circumstances of the Lower Topanga relocation. For example, numerous residents, especially older residents, relied on subletting rooms and guest houses for their income. In some cases, this was expressly authorized by the former landowner LAACO Ltd. The relocation plan does not take this into account. So someone whose $1,000 rent is paid entirely by subtenants, is still viewed as able to pay $1,000 toward rent on a new home with no space for subtenants. Over the 42-month relocation assistance period, this amounts to a loss of $42,000 in income.

There are, of course, many other differences between the relocation of a rustic community like Lower Topanga and projects in an urban setting where comparable housing is easier to find.

Long-time resident and the most vocal advocate for saving Lower Topanga, Bernt Capra says he expects to stay and fight for enough time to find a genuinely suitable replacement home for himself and his three children. At the same time, he said the neighborhood has already been broken up and State Parks has not cleaned up the houses that have been left in disarray.

"They have destroyed what we had here," said Capra. "No one comes and says 'what a paradise' any more."

State Parks has also not begun promised brush clearance around the community, according to Capra, and the Fire Department hasn't been around to notify residents of fire clearance requirements either. He said LAACO did a better job than State Parks is doing at safeguarding the residents from fire.

While relocation compensation has helped numerous residents to find new housing, it isn't enough for those who want to stay in the Topanga-Malibu area, according to Capra.

Most of those who have moved fall into three categories that make the compensation go further, said Capra. One group has chosen to move out of state where housing costs are lower. A few have sufficient income that, with relocation assistance, it is possible to buy an acceptable home--though virtually all are outside of the Topanga-Malibu area. Others are moving to mobile homes.

For those who want comparable housing in the same area, particularly those with children in school, it is much more difficult.

"In a market like this, I need more time," said Capra. "There just aren't enough houses on the market."

Stearns said State Parks is proud that relocation dollars have helped many to buy houses.

Out of 30 claims paid so far, 19 residents have purchased or are in the process of purchasing homes, he said.

"That's a heck of a lot of people who would not otherwise be able to purchase homes," said Stearns.

Another 10 to 20 residents who received eviction notices subsequent to the initial batch in April are expected to file grievances once their eviction dates come up.


Man with Machete Reported at Center

Sheriff's deputies searched the Topanga Center area late Sunday night, July 14, after reports that a man with a machete was roaming around, according to Deputy I. Lua.

The man, who Lua said was described as perhaps a local homeless person or dayworker, was not found. Lua said he had very limited information about the incident because no report was made on the incident since the man was not found.


Sherman Announces $2.5 Million Likely for Mountains

On July 18, Congressman Brad Sherman announced the passage of the Interior Appropriations bill by the House of Representatives for 2003 which included $2.5 million for land acquisition in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The amount approved by the House is more than twice the $1 million Congress appropriated for 2002 for the Santa Monica Mountains. The decision of the House to provide $2.5 million this year must now be approved in similar legislation being considered by the Senate.

If this funding is approved, Congressman Sherman will have secured nearly $20 million for the Santa Monica Mountains since coming to Congress in 1997. Federal funding secured by Sherman, combined with state and local funds, is sufficient to complete the Backbone Trail, which will be dedicated on August 22.

The Santa Monica Mountains are within an hour's drive for over 19 million people--one in 15 Americans--and are a critically important recreational resource. The beaches and mountains of the SMMNRA are visited each year by over 40 million people, making it the most visited unit of the national park system.


What, Me Worry? Robinson Road Prepares


Robinson Road residents meet to plan as a neighborhood for when disaster strikes.

By Tony Morris

Thirty residents of the Robinson Road area of Topanga met July 16 at the home of Mark and Renee Gander to discuss disaster preparedness. Susan Clark representing Animal Care, Pat Mac Neil of the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP), the Red Cross and the Disaster Response Team, and representatives of the Los Angeles County Fire Department provide those present with information regarding preparation and planning for disaster.

Lynn Dickhoff, an organizer of the meeting, stressed the importance of neighbors sharing information such as sketches of their houses which could be used in the event of an emergency such as a major wildfire.

Susan Clark advised residents to take their animals with them in a disaster and to create a "buddy system" for their animals so that family and friends outside the Canyon will be able to take care of pets. Clark said collars and microchips with information can be vital in safeguarding pets.

Pat Mac Neil asked those gathered at the meeting how many had moved to Topanga after the 1993 fire. A show of hands revealed that many had recently moved to the Canyon and had not experienced the 1993 wildfire. Mac Neil said that Topanga is a unique place where the residents have a responsibility to know how to be prepared in the event of disasters such as fires, floods and landslides. T-CEP's publication Evacuating Topanga is a fact-filled guide and the T-CEP hotline at (310) 455-3000, provides updated information on emergencies in the Canyon. Mac Neil said that residents must decide to stay or evacuate when a fire occurs. It is their responsibility, and each family should have a plan. A video produced by T-CEP and providing important information about disaster preparedness was also shown.

Mac Neil said that she teaches First Aid and CPR classes in the Canyon and would provide instruction to neighborhood groups.

Representatives of the Fire Department gave detailed information on the threat from wildfires and offered practical advice. In the event of a wildfire, residents can provide an emergency storage location for documents, photographs and valuable items by digging a hole in the ground and covering it over. It is also advisable to videotape the contents of your house.

Fire Captain Salhus along with firefighters Johnson, Fullove and Maher discussed wildfire behavior and the danger from spot fires starting in front of the actual fire line. Pine and eucalyptus trees can throw off embers which can travel a quarter of a mile.

Propane tanks can be extremely dangerous in a wildfire if they are surrounded by combustible materials. Combustibles should be cleared for 10 feet around a propane tank. Propane tanks should be shut off at the supply valve in the event of a wildfire because there could be an explosion.

Fire Department representatives all stressed the danger of wildfires and the need for preparation in the event of an evacuation. Once a fire is burning out of control, the danger of area ignition occurs. The temperature is so high that it causes materials to burn in advance of the fire line.


Gimme Shelter or an "Earthtube"

A developer of alternative homes suggests fire shelters built of earth and cement to residents of Malibu and Topanga who face a long and difficult fire season during the summer of 2002.

Jack Sweeney, of Desertships, said his shelters resist wildland fires because they are made of earth and cement and are fitted with concrete roofs. The soil and cement mixture, known as "stabilized earth," is fed into jute containers that Sweeney calls "earthtubes," to build the walls of the fire shelters.

Once the walls of the shelter cure, the jute containers are stripped away, leaving solid adobe structures, which are then covered with concrete vault ceilings and finished with lime plaster. The ends of the vault sections hold doors and windows.

For more information call Jack Sweeney at (661) 264-2061 or visit


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