MALIBU, Calif. – Homeowners in a tiny Malibu (search) community that has battled the state over public access to the shore have been ordered to stop building gigantic walls of sand between the ocean and their beachfront homes.
The California Coastal Commission (search) ordered Broad Beach residents to stop using heavy equipment to push sand from the public area up toward the homes. The barriers, up to 8 feet in places, essentially shrink the public beaches in front of the homes.
The panel said Wednesday that the practice has harmed wildlife and put adjacent public beach under water.
"Either there is no public access or the public access has now shifted onto their back yards and onto their decks," said Lisa Haage, the commission's chief of enforcement.
"I don't think this was their intent," Haage added. "Ironically, our discussions have been about how to have public access without impinging on their privacy or having people right in their back yards."
The dispute is the latest clash in a long-running fight over the private-property rights of Broad Beach homeowners, including celebrities Goldie Hawn (search), Steven Spielberg (search) and Dustin Hoffman (search).
Marshall Grossman, one of just 108 Broad Beach homeowners, said the berms were meant to restore sand dunes that washed away during last winter's storms — not to block public access.
"When that happens, homeowners bring their own sand back to the dunes or bring in replacement sand from the outside," Grossman said. "It doesn't interfere with public access at all because the dunes are simply restored to what they were."
But Richard Menna, a kite-surfing instructor from the San Fernando Valley, said the practice is unfair to the public.
"The unmitigated nerve of this is staggering," he said. "I know people who've gotten tickets for just picking up a few rocks on state beaches. There must be thousands of tons of sand taken from public property."
By law, the property line of a beach-front home ends at the mean high tide line, but dozens of homes also have easements allowing the public on 25-foot strips of sand above the tide line.
Last July, the Coastal Commission demanded that homeowners remove warning signs stating "private property, do not trespass" and stop employing private security guards who target outsiders. That conflict is unresolved.
Public access advocates won a victory in May, however, when entertainment mogul David Geffen (search) opened a 9-foot walkway past his seaside mansion in nearby Carbon Beach (search). Geffen had agreed in 1983 to build a pathway across his property in exchange for permission to remodel his home. He built the walkway but refused for decades to unlock gates to it, arguing there were insufficient amenities such as restrooms, parking and lifeguards to accommodate the public.