MALIBU, Calif. – It may be called "Billionaires' Beach," but the pristine views along one of Malibu's most exclusive coastlines are now easily accessible to anyone.
After a decadelong legal fight that pitted public access advocates against a wealthy homeowner who refused to build a path, the California Coastal Commission is officially opening a third walkway along the 1.5-mile Carbon Beach on Tuesday.
"It's an amazing stretch of coast that should be open to everyone," said Charles Lester, the commission's executive director.
Carbon Beach is renowned for its majestic shoreline and high net-worth celebrities and homeowners. Heavy-hitters include Larry Ellison, former chief executive of Oracle Corp.; Hard Rock Cafe co-founder Peter Morton; and entertainment mogul David Geffen.
Geffen spent years fighting against public access before opening up a path promised in 1983 in exchange for a remodeling permit. At the time, it was one of about 1,300 promised walkways, though many never opened.
State law guarantees the public beach access up to the mean high tide line. But in areas like Malibu, many affluent and influential residents have taken extensive measures to keep beachgoers out of their sandy backyards.
The lengthy legal quarrel over Carbon Beach access dates to the 1980s. The Coastal Commission issued Lisette and Norman Ackerberg building permits in exchange for providing a public path beside their house.
The Ackerbergs put up various impediments, including a 9-foot-high wall, large boulders and a tennis court to resist building an easement.
In 2009, Lisette Ackerberg, whose husband died in 2004, sued the commission to overturn its order opening a public pathway. California's 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the agency.
In 2013, the commission approved a settlement requiring Ackerberg to pay $1.1 million in fines. Some of the money will go to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to operate and maintain the pathway and reimburse the attorney general's office for legal fees.
Ackerberg said she and her husband considered themselves advocates for both the environment and people with disabilities. She offered to build a wheelchair-accessible path to address the lack of accommodation for the disabled.
"If this battle brings ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access to other accessways, that is progress and a worthy endeavor," Ackerberg wrote in an e-mail.
Graham Hamilton, chairman of the West LA/Malibu chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said he is pleased with the opening, but he also acknowledged the remaining challenges ahead.
"It's a small victory in a very large battle," Hamilton said. "We hope that any development that is going to take place in the future remembers the citizens' rights under the California Coastal Act and state constitution, which allow public access to coastal lines."
The Carbon Beach West pathway, as it's officially known, will be open between sunrise and sunset.
The commission plans to open at least 18 additional paths in Malibu.