APNewsBreak: Malibu resident told to open access

AP News
Posted: Jul 13, 2011 10:31 PM
APNewsBreak: Malibu resident told to open access

It turns out the going price for privacy on Malibu's beachfront "millionaires row" is only $250,000.

Court documents show the nonprofit group Access for All, which manages public pathways to the beach, agreed to help get rid of an access point at a home overlooking one of the most exclusive parts of the California coast in exchange for money and lawyer fees from the resident to open a different pathway.

However, the deal didn't get very far.

Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant backed the state last week in its effort to open the original pathway past Lisette Ackerberg's home to Carbon Beach.

While California's Coastal Act of 1976 ensures beach access, the rich and famous who want to keep the state's dramatic coast exclusive have in some cases launched years-long legal battles. Some regularly post fake "no parking" and "private beach" signs that are so convincing that unfortunate beachgoers occasionally get ticketed.

This pathway was a condition of a development permit the Coastal Commission gave in the 1980s to the Ackerberg family, which has a mansion, three-car garage, tennis courts and pool spanning two beachfront lots. The Coastal Conservancy, which is responsible for making sure such pathways get opened, had agreed to let Access for All manage the site.

Diane Abbitt, an attorney for Ackerberg, did not immediately return calls for comment Wednesday.

Steve Hoye, who heads Access for All, strongly denied the organization would enter into a settlement to abandon the proposed pathway at the Ackerberg home.

But 2009 court documents obtained by The Associated Press showed the nonprofit agreed to those terms.

"We did not agree to help her sort out her problems with the Coastal Commission," Hoye said. "We were simply looking at a different opportunity to open up a different accessway."

This isn't the first time that a battle to provide public access to Carbon Beach has made headlines.

Perhaps the most famous is the pathway film and music mogul David Geffen promised in exchange for a remodeling permit. Geffen, who finally relented in 2007, battled for decades to stop the public from using a stretch of Carbon Beach in front of his Malibu compound, citing concerns about traffic, privacy and the potential environmental harm sunbathers would cause.

"They build their homes, enjoy it, but when it's time to provide the public access required they just use their money to delay opening it," said Aaron McLendon, statewide enforcement analyst for the Coastal Commission.

Pathways to beaches along California's 1,100 miles of coast are typically managed by a patchwork of state and local agencies as well as nonprofits. In Malibu, Access for All oversees six access points for the state and has received as much as $105,000 in grants from the conservancy to open and maintain them.

In 2003, Access for All notified the Ackerbergs that it had accepted the offer to oversee the opening of the public pathway and received grant money for the project.

According to the judge's decision, the nonprofit did little beyond getting a survey two years later that found the proposed access was blocked by a concrete slab, generator, light posts, a 9-foot-high wall and other development.

In 2005 the Coastal Commission notified the Ackerbergs that the pathway needed to be cleared. Access for All filed a lawsuit in 2009 to compel the Ackerbergs to comply with the request, even though commission officials discouraged the move, saying they would address the matter in a hearing.

Then, without notifying the commission, the nonprofit entered into an unusual settlement, documents show.

Access for All agreed to file a lawsuit funded by the homeowner seeking to open another proposed, county-owned pathway. Shortly after that easement was approved and opened, "Ackerberg and AFA (Access for All) would jointly apply to the commission to terminate Ackerberg's easement," according to the judge's decision.

The family would pay $125,000 to the nonprofit to maintain the new pathway and another $125,000 to the commission, money that could go to Access for All if the state agency refused it, according to the documents.

If Access for All was not successful in getting the county pathway opened, it agreed to help the homeowner get modifications on their original access plan from the commission.

When Peter Douglas, Coastal Commission's executive director found out about the deal, he sent an email to the nonprofit expressing disappointment in what appeared to be an effort to exchange money for the prevention of public access.

"If true, I am greatly disappointed and appalled," he said. "If true, this is outrageous."

The judge agreed, saying that no matter how much the Ackerbergs argued that the county pathway was better, "the fact is that the public is entitled to both."

Following revelations of the deal, the Coastal Conservancy, said it expects to regain legal control of four of the pathways it had turned over to the nonprofit, including the proposed path on the Ackerberg property.

"They basically tried to create a deal that they didn't have the authority to create," said Joan Cardellino, the conservancy's south coast regional manager. "Our position is, hey you hold a public access easement and you're responsibility is to open it."