In the 10 years since the 123 property owners on Malibu’s Broad Beach Road formed a Geological Hazardous Abatement District (GHAD) to save their houses from the ocean, a lot of water has gone under the bridge. The GHAD, which has the power to assess properties and collect funds to fix the disappearing sand problem, has now spent $21 million on engineers and lawyers, and there remains not one new grain of sand.
But with lawsuits stacking up, neighbors are beginning to try in earnest to seek a resolution, at least according to the most recent meeting of the GHAD, which took place on Sunday morning, Oct. 18.
There are four lawsuits from residents now pending against the GHAD and, over time, some residents reportedly had to sell their houses because they couldn’t afford the GHAD assessments, which run $70,000 per year and up. In a court case earlier this year, the judge ruled that property assessments had to take more factors into account than just beachfront footage—like whether the property has a rock revetment in front and is approved for sand replenishment by the California Coastal Commission.
A group formed a couple of years ago in opposition to many of the GHAD board’s decisions, informally calling itself the Reef Group. The group has criticized the board for refusing to settle these lawsuits out of court, declining to discuss issues in person and rejecting a suggestion to meet jointly with the Coastal Commission to renegotiate parts of the coastal development permit (CDP) for sand replenishment, approved in 2015.
This month’s public board meeting (on Zoom) appeared to represent a breakthrough in getting the two sides together. The board agreed to officially agendize an open forum discussion with the Reef Group and resident George Novogroder. The points for discussion included how to resolve lawsuits without further litigation and a list of items detailing how the Reef Group would like to proceed with the sand project.
“I welcome the opposition and for all of us to meet and move forward,” Board Chairman Norton Karno said. He explained California’s open meetings law—commonly known as the Brown Act—makes it illegal for the entire board to meet with the Reef Group informally. He said he and Ken Ehrlich, project attorney, had met twice with the Reef Group, but they “declined any further negotiations unless the board sent a different negotiating team.” He also pointed out that the Reef Group could have attended any of the monthly meetings to communicate with the board.
Most meeting attendees seemed to agree that settling the four current lawsuits needs to happen before any further progress can be made on the sand project.
“We have two lawsuits that I think are unnecessary at this point, and I think they can be dispatched quickly and settled,” one resident, Bill Curtis, said. “The board’s philosophy of not settling should be abandoned ... Can we get rid of those lawsuits now? Coastal needs to see a united front.”
Neighbors seemed willing to move forward.
“We would be comfortable with a stay on our litigation and ... we’re prepared to compromise,” Max Factor, party to one of the lawsuits, said. “This issue could be resolved in half a day or a day with a mediator,” he pointed out.
Novogroder, who owns one lot on Broad Beach and has an interest in a second lot, made some introductory remarks and laid out the Reef Group’s proposed plan, which he said was developed with board input.
Their proposed solution is to put down 300,000 cubic yards of sand on Broad Beach, “and if it washes away, it may be time to give up.” Another provision is that “construction” must begin by Jan. 1, 2022. “And if it doesn’t happen by then, it’s time to throw in the towel.” Further, he said that any homeowner without a rock revetment should have the opportunity to get one. In addition, further board votes on raising the assessment should be held off until there is a permit for sand, and members of the GHAD board need to be present at any meeting with the coastal commission to revisit the CDP.
Points of contention with the CDP include the commission’s requirement for a coastal trail that would end up going very close to their houses, licensing agreements to allow public access over that trail and the creation of 12 acres of sand dune habitat that would take up sizeable portions of their private property. If the sand project doesn’t happen, the commission is then expected to make homeowners with rock revetments move those rocks much closer to their houses or perhaps get rid of them altogether.
The Reef Group also wants to propose to the coastal commission the creation of an alternate public trail on land that is already public, between their houses and PCH, with connections to current public beach access points.
Ehrlich then gave a presentation that, in essence, found fault with every idea the Reef Group presented.
“We can’t keep listening to Ehrlich say the coastal commission won’t accept [this and that],” Alex Hagen countered. “We have to get them to accept it.”
If the coastal commission refuses to negotiate the stated points, Plan B is a “revetment only” project, which was explained at length but not universally agreed upon by the homeowners.
In the end, Karno confirmed that he agreed to go to the coastal commission with the Reef Group “to define a better plan for the community.” In addition, other meetings will be held with various parties, and the results will be reported back as soon as possible.