During the years that the California Coastal Commission and Los Angeles County struggled to agree on a land-use plan for Malibu, owners of property in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains contended that their lots should not come under the authority of the special regulations being discussed.
Over and over, at public hearings and in letters, the owners argued that the 65,000-acre Malibu coastal zone extended much too far inland.
Now, five months after a land-use plan has been adopted, property owners and real estate brokers are acting on their long-simmering complaint.
Campaign to Move Boundary
They have launched a campaign to move the coastal zone boundary closer to the shoreline. They are seeking the removal of more than 6,000 parcels from the coastal zone and from the restrictions of the land-use plan.
This week, a Malibu real estate broker donated about $300 to place advertisements in local newspapers announcing the challenge.
Ten mountain landowners have pooled money for a lawsuit they hope to file against the state. Their attorney has asked the Board of Supervisors to consider having the county join them in the proposed litigation.
Don Knabe, chief deputy to Supervisor Deane Dana, said his office has asked the county counsel to review the issue.
"I'm so happy with this I can't even see straight," said Tom Bates, who paid for ads in two Malibu weeklies and a newspaper in Agoura and plans to place another in a Topanga paper. Bates is a former president of Concerned Citizens for Property Rights, a landowners group, and former land-use chairman for the Malibu Board of Realtors.
"This is the one I've been dreaming about," said Pat Randa, who is spearheading the effort along with her husband, Tom.
The couple persuaded the Coastal Commission in January to exclude their five acres at the western edge of Malibu Creek State Park from the coastal zone. Two days later, the county issued a building permit and the Randas broke ground on the home they had waited seven years to begin.
"We feel that no property owner should go through the process we had to go through," Randa said. "Now that the land-use plan has been adopted and certified, other people can see what they're in for."
Said Tryon N. Sisson, who has extensive landholdings in the mountains: "It makes a real difference if property is in the coastal zone or not. In the zone, the plan makes it in some cases totally impossible to use your property." Sisson said he may join the proposed lawsuit.
The protesters believe the coastal zone should end about 2.5 miles from the shoreline rather than at the current boundary, about five miles inland from the sea.
Their reasoning: "The state Legislature's test to determine the boundary of coastal zones was five miles from the ocean or the first major ridge line in the area, whichever was closest to the ocean," said Joseph M. Gughemetti, the attorney representing Randa and other landowners.
"The corner of Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway is about five miles from the ocean," he said. "If you drive there from the beach, you have gone through a tunnel to get there. That tunnel goes through a major ridge."
However, Roy Gorman, an Oakland attorney who was chief counsel to the Coastal Commission when the boundary lines were drawn, said the matter is not so cut-and-dried.
The first ridge line was set as a possible boundary because it marks the spot where streams flowing to the ocean generally begin, Gorman said. The intent was to protect coastal waters by controlling what enters the sea.
"Certainly the beach and the sand and shoreline matter," Gorman said, "but the Coastal Act also protects other things that are part of the coastal experience--the rolling hills, the watersheds, which feed the wetlands and the estuaries along the coast. Wildlife depends on a whole system and not just one little strip."
That thinking presented some problems, however. Some streams begin much further inland. Malibu Creek, for example, begins 17 miles north of the spot where it meets the Pacific.
"The Legislature made a policy decision that it was not going to have a coastal zone boundary further inland than five miles," Gorman said.
The coastal staff went five miles inland, past the first ridge, in mapping the Malibu zone, Gorman said, because the watershed went past the first ridge. The map was approved by the Legislature in 1976 as part of the Coastal Act.
"It is abundantly clear to me that the Legislature knew where the boundary was," Gorman said.
In fact, the Legislature corrected the Malibu coastal zone boundary as part of a series of coastal borderline bills in the late 1970s and 1980, Gorman said. In one spot, the Malibu boundary went a quarter-mile past the five-mile limit.
In changing the boundary to five miles rather than to the first ridge line, Gorman said, the Legislature reaffirmed its intended border for the zone.