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.)