Two friends walk along the sand at Dan Blocker County Beach in Malibu. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
A prime stretch of Malibu coastline has been in public hands for decades, but you wouldn't know from looking at it.
Dan Blocker County Beach has no official parking spots, no welcome sign, no permanent restrooms or other visitor-friendly amenities. It spans a mile of Los Angeles County's most stunning coastline on Pacific Coast Highway, but there is no pathway down the steep, roadside bluff to the sand. And a third of the property is blocked off with a chain-link fence that beachgoers must go around, scale or squeeze through to reach the seashore.
The county Department of Beaches and Harbors has owned the 11-acre beachfront property for 16 years and operated it even longer, but has so far failed to develop it into a beach most people can actually use. In fact, officials discourage visitors from trying to reach the shore from the highway above out of concern that they will be injured scrambling down the 20-foot bluff.
PHOTOS: Dan Blocker County Beach
Plans to build a small parking lot, a path to the sand, restrooms and other improvements have gone nowhere for more than decade, even after the county was awarded a $700,000 state grant to help pay for it. The county has now spent nearly as much of its own money drafting plans and reports.
Two lifeguard towers, some Porta Pottis and a few trash bins sit on the shore.
But the beach remains as difficult to get to as it was more than three decades ago, when it was donated to the public in memory of "Bonanza" actor Dan Blocker.
Now, a member of the Malibu City Council says that if the county won't make Dan Blocker accessible, it should hand the property over to Malibu to open and operate as its first and only city beach.
"The public deserves access to their property," said Councilman Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner, who owns a surfboard shop in town and came up with the idea after several years of pressing county officials proved fruitless. "Truly, opening that beach is the right thing to do. Whether it is the city, county or state, it should be opened. It should be staffed and manned."
County officials, however, flatly reject the idea.
"It's not going to be a city beach," said Joel Bellman, a spokesman for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the area.
A $4.8-million proposal to build 15 parking spots, a walkway, benches, drinking fountains and restrooms on two acres of bluff-top is expected to go before the Board of Supervisors by mid-2012, said Carol Baker, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.
"The project is moving forward," she said, noting that for now, part of the beach is open and can be reached safely by walking in from down the coast.
Baker attributed the delays to the cost, the complications of building on steep terrain and the need to purchase an additional sliver of land to proceed with the project.
But the chain-link fence and lack of amenities haven't kept visitors away. Over the years, nearby residents, whose homes perch over the sand and divide the beach into several segments, have reported fishermen cutting through fencing to get to the shore and beachgoers trespassing on their property to use the toilet.
"They're using it anyway," Councilman Wagner said. "They're climbing over the rocks and at night they're having bonfires and they're partying. They're leaving their litter behind and letting their dogs run unsupervised. There are tons of people there, and they're all risking injury because there are no steps."
The beach was donated to the state in 1979 by Lorne Greene and Michael Landon in memory of their fellow "Bonanza" star, who played Hoss Cartwright on the long-running television series. Valued at $3 million at the time, the parcel came with instructions that it be used "for public park and recreation purposes."
The state acquired surrounding pieces of land in the 1980s and '90s and transferred ownership of the entire beach to the county in 1995.
But as early as 1987, state coastal planners were chiding L.A. County, the beach's longtime caretaker, for taking "an embarrassingly long time" to open the beach to the public. At the time, county officials also cited lack of funds.
The project surfaced again in 2001. In a letter to the public at the time, former Beaches and Harbors Director Stan Wisniewski wrote of his "sincere hope that this long-awaited development will provide safe access for people to enjoy the natural beauty of this portion of Malibu," saying it would be a "fitting memorial" to Blocker, "for whom the property was donated for public purposes." The site would be available for public use as early as 2004, he wrote.
But that year came and went, and the project was still on the drawing board.
In 2004, the state Coastal Conservancy awarded L.A. County a $700,000 grant to design and build $1.2 million worth of beach access improvements at Dan Blocker. The county spent only $113,000 of the grant, records show, and the agreement was terminated in May 2010, with the state believing the funds could be put to more immediate use elsewhere.
Earlier this week, a healthy crowd of beachgoers squeezed their vehicles onto the road shoulder and negotiated their way down the craggy bluff to beachcomb, kayak, run along the shore and play in the surf.
Though some said the beach should be easier to find and more accommodating, others savor its untouched character.
"I actually think it would be better if they didn't do anything to it at all," said David Schlais, 29, a yoga instructor from Malibu, relaxing on a rock near the shore.
PHOTOS: Dan Blocker County Beach