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Malibu Beaches app: What's the point if beach paths don't exist?

The new smartphone service will help people locate legal but often hidden access points to beaches.

May 29, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Jenny Price, who calls herself an environmental historian, has spent years helping the public find its way to public beaches disguised as private property. Price has partnered with Escape Apps to create Our Malibu Beaches app.
Jenny Price, who calls herself an environmental historian, has spent years… (Los Angeles Times )

A new smartphone app, debuting next month for iPhones and iPads, will help people locate legal but often hidden access points to Malibu beaches as well as places to plop down on the sand once they get there. The app, called Our Malibu Beaches, is the enterprising idea of Jenny Price, an environmental writer who has made a mission of seeking out beach access through some of the least accessible and most coveted land along the coast of California.

If only Los Angeles County and the state could be as ingenious in helping beachgoers use those paths. At the moment, there are 17 marked public accessways along the privately developed Malibu coastline that are either owned by the county or granted by easement to the state. There are 20 additional passageways where easements have been granted by property owners but where walkways or stairways have yet to be built. Meanwhile, the local coastal plan for the city of Malibu, which the state Coastal Commission drew up, says as a guideline that there should be an accessway every 1,000 feet. Over the 20 miles of developed coastline, that would mean about 105, not 17 or 37.

But decreeing that in a coastal plan and making it happen are two very different things. There is more litigation over beach access in Malibu than in any other part of the state. Only when a property owner applies for permits to build or remodel does the Coastal Commission have an opportunity to request an easement for a public walkway. And even then, the agency doesn't always get it. When it does, the commission must then partner with public or nonprofit organizations to pay for building the accessway and maintaining it. (A paved walkway, or even a sandy one, can cost $10,000 to build on a flat surface. A staircase over a cliff can cost $1 million.)

Still, it is taking too long to get these accessways built, as the commission's coastal access programs manager acknowledges. The state has a partner that is now concentrating on building some of the accessways in Malibu, and that's good news. Even plans for those have to be submitted to the Coastal Commission for approval. Maybe the commission could fast-track them. Meanwhile, the county owns beach land that should be accessible but isn't. For instance, though it has owned Dan Blocker County Beach for 17 years, it has not yet put in a vertical accessway from street to sand. County officials have said they are committed to building that access along with a parking lot and a staircase. They should make that a priority.

The ocean and much of the beaches belong to all of us. But if we can't access them, then they're not really ours.

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