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A Moveable Beach

June 10, 2005

If you can't get the public off your beach, then take the beach away from the public. That may or may not be what was intended at ever-contested Broad Beach in the upper reaches of Malibu. It certainly appears to be the practical result of several days of bulldozing sand from the wet part of the beach into an imposing head-high pile on the dry side.

In any case, years of struggle over the public's state-protected right to be on the beach "below the mean high-tide line" have eroded trust between beachgoers and homeowners faster than a winter storm can scour away a dune. Or a bulldozer can dig up stateprotected beach and deposit it on the homeowners' side of the line.

A leader of the homeowners group told The Times that the bulldozing -- which apparently went on for several days -- was merely an innocent and legal effort to rebuild and protect shorefront dunes. A furious California Coastal Commission disagreed, noting that the bulldozing probably ruined the beach's grunion run as well as ripping up the homes of crabs and other tide-line dwellers.

(Beach dwellers on other parts of the coast also note that piling up sand in protective berms is something most people do in the winter, when the northerly storms come, not in summer, when sand often returns on its own to rebuild beaches.)

The bulldozers have been ordered to cease and desist, but not before flattening the slope of the shore, drawing the tide farther inland and largely depriving the public of a dry place to lay a towel.

Or maybe removing the beach doesn't have such a clear-cut effect. As the Coastal Commission's chief of enforcement said, "Either there is no public access, or public access has been shifted onto [the homeowners'] backyards and onto their decks."

Perhaps a hospitable soul is already making up a pitcher of margaritas to welcome the newly entitled public.

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