After losing a three-year court battle, and ordered to pay Access for All's legal costs, David Geffen hands over keys to the gate that allows access to land that fronts his property to public beachgoers.
By Hans Laetz/Special to The Malibu Times
Several dozen beachgoers ambled past television news trucks and down a cement path to "Billionaires' Beach" Monday, taking advantage of the new passageway next to David Geffen's compound that was opened Memorial Day.
The controversial accessway once again thrust Malibu coastal access issues into the forefront for news media around the world. But on the sunny holiday, the notorious sidewalk was simply a pathway to pleasure for some.
Last week, a young mother who has lived on the landside of Pacific Coast Highway for 12 years-unable to access the beach without walking a mile up the road-was the first member of the public to use the new accessway as coastal advocates dedicated it.
Jayna Mims and her 8-month-old son, Ryder, walked past the music mogul's house and onto the sand full of praise for the volunteers, environmentalists and government officials who held Geffen to a bargain he had made decades ago to dedicate public access to the sand in order to receive permits to remodel his home on the beach.
"Thank you, guys. Now I can get to the beach," exulted Mims as Ryder cooed and dug his ankles into the sand.
Beach access advocates popped champagne Thursday morning to celebrate the first public access opened on the eastern end of Carbon Beach. Topanga resident Steve Hoye spent five years fighting Geffen in court over the horizontal and vertical dedications that allow the public to cross past the strip of private homes and use most of the dry-sand beach in front of Geffen's house.
"We're actually getting access for all the people of California, not just the people who can afford it," an exultant Hoye said. "There is no such thing as a private beach in the state of California."
The accessway in the 22100 block of Pacific Coast Highway is the only public route to the beach between the Zonker Harris accessway (across from McDonalds, next to the old Windsail restaurant) and the damaged staircase at Moonshadows, a length of 3.6 miles of Malibu's most exclusive beach. It lies across the highway from the Verizon telephone exchange, and is not marked yet.
The California Coastal Conservancy has asked the state highway department to install a "barefoot access" sign and handicap parking space at the gate, which is open daylight hours only.
The conservancy has given Access For All, the nonprofit run by Hoye, a grant to pay for a beach monitor to sit at the gate and steer guests around two tiny plots of dry sand that Geffen still controls. A man who emerged from the Geffen residence Thursday ordered a Los Angeles Times photographer off one of the plots.
Hoye offered a toast to all involved at Thursday's dedication: "I also do want to thank David Geffen, because, quite frankly, he does not think this is a good idea but in the end he has done the right thing, and he has actually come around.
"We are going to be the best neighbor we possibly can be for Mr. Geffen," Hoye continued. "We are going to make this work."
Beachgoers and beachfront residents had scant comment. One strolling lady, who would not give her name, said she was conflicted by the new public entrance to what had been in effect a private strand. "The people who live on the beach paid an enormous amount in taxes and come out here for a reasonable sense of privacy," she said. "But people have the right to use the beach."
Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan, a Malibu resident, said it was unfortunate that Geffen had drawn attention to the beach accessway by fighting it in court. This should have been just another beach accessway, but because of the battle this is probably going to be a lot more publicized," she said.
Despite the praise from some landlocked Malibu residents, Access For All has raised hackles among Malibu leaders, and the city council had authorized the city attorney to join Geffen's legal fight. City officials had said the Geffen accessway is a long way from safe parking and highway crosswalk signals, and presents a security hazard to beachfront residents.
The city effort collapsed after Geffen agreed to abide by the agreements he had made in order to remodel his house, and to pay Access for All and the state $300,000 for their legal costs.
More accessways may be opened later this year, Hoye said, one at Carbon Beach and a pair at Latigo Beach. Other agencies are still negotiating to remove a fence along Pacific Coast Highway at Carbon Canyon Road, where former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, industrialist Eli Broad and their partners have donated a beachfront lot in exchange for building rights on their land at Carbon Beach.
And at Broad Beach, homeowners and the Coastal Conservancy are negotiating to clear up a patchwork of public and private sand that has confused the issue of public access there, Wan said.