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Blueprint for MALIBU

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August 02, 1987|BARBARA BAIRD | Times Staff Writer

How to ensure that the public is not excluded from the coastline is a continuing point of contention for beachgoers, private landowners, the state Coastal Commission and the County Board of Supervisors.

To surfer Thomas Pratte, access to public beaches is more than an abstract planning issue. It is something he has learned about firsthand.

"I grew up exploring the coast, looking at every beach from Santa Barbara to San Diego" for the best surfing spots, he said. And in the process of investigating beaches that lie off the beaten path, he said ruefully, "I got run out of a lot places by people who said I didn't belong there."

Because of these encounters with angry beachfront property owners, and an understandable confusion over which beaches are public and which are private, Pratte decided to help collect signatures for Proposition 20, the California Coastal Zone Conservation Act of 1972.

The passage of that initiative, and the subsequent enactment of the Coastal Act of 1976, set in motion an historic effort to ensure that the public is not excluded from California's spectacular 1,100-mile coastline.

Local Plans Required

The landmark coastal legislation calls for the establishment of local coastal plans to provide a blueprint for development and to provide for public access.

It took almost 10 years to develop a land-use plan for the 65,000-acre Malibu Coastal Zone because so many competing public and private interests have a stake in this valuable 27-mile coastline.

The principal sparring partners were the California Coastal Commission, which pressed hard for environmental protections and public access, and Los Angeles County, which was more sympathetic to property rights and development issues.

The disparity between the two was evident in 1985 when the commission rejected the county's land-use proposal for Malibu because it would have allowed excessive development and insufficient shoreline access. The county also would have allowed twice as much residential development as eventually was permitted in a revised plan adopted by the commission in December.

The 130-page blueprint for the development of Malibu represents the culmination of "a long, hard struggle," according to county Planning Director Norman Murdoch.

Controversial Nuances

"I have worked on plans in every part of the United States and have never found one more challenging than Malibu. . . . Every single issue and nuance was controversial," he said.

Many of those who testified at numerous public hearings over the years were adamant that strong beach-access requirements were needed to prevent what David Brown of the Sierra Club calls "the privatization of the coast."

Only about 10 miles of the the Malibu coast is public, planners said.

Without coastal legislation, access points would have become "completely closed off from public use" because of economic pressure for private development, said Pratte, executive vice president of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit group representing the beach-going public.

Peter Dixon, a 21-year resident of Malibu, agreed. "If there were no plan and no Coastal Commission," he said, "we would see no public access to the beach in Malibu except for those portions purchased for public use a long time ago."

Cheek-by-jowl development along Pacific Coast Highway has become known as "the Chinese Wall of Malibu," according to Madelyn Glickfeld, a planner and Coastal Commission alternate member who lives in Malibu and has worked to keep massive development from overwhelming this fabled seaside community.

No Immediate Results

Those who expected that the adoption of the Malibu plan would result in the immediate opening of new public beaches and walkways will be disappointed, officials acknowledged. Except for an access improvement the county started just last week at Topanga Creek and Pacific Coast Highway, the glorious Malibu coastline has no more public beaches or accessways than when the plan was approved nearly eight months ago.

The plan is intended to produce gradual rather than immediate improvements in public access by regulating new development, according to Steve Scholl, who supervised the Malibu plan for the Coastal Commission.

The plan will have an incremental effect by setting conditions under which developers will be required to provide public access to obtain approval for their projects, he said.

To help provide public access to the beach, the Malibu plan calls for the installation of about 50 walkways and stairways leading to the shoreline from the nearest road or highway.

There now are 11 such accessways in Malibu, most of them established by the county in 1971 to comply with a provision in the Subdivision Map Act requiring public access to all state tidelands.

Zonker Harris Walkway

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