MALIBU, Calif. (AP) — With a bright blue sign that reads "Beach Access" on an open gate replacing what used to be private property, the public now has access to Malibu's so-called "Billionaires' Beach."
The California Coastal Commission officially opened a public path to Carbon Beach on Tuesday, allowing the not-so-rich-and-famous to experience the sandy backyards of oceanside mega-mansions.
"One of the greatest values we uphold everywhere is that the California coast is for everyone," said Charles Lester, the commission's executive director, during the opening ceremony.
Many advocates of public access joined the commission to celebrate the new path.
Some coastline residents also look forward to sharing the majestic shoreline with visitors. "I want the beach to be shared. As long as people respect the high-tide line, all the power to them," said Leah Box, who lives in a beach-front condo.
While this is a victory for many, providing public beach access has not been easy.
State law guarantees the public beach access up to the mean high tide line. But in areas like Malibu, many wealthy and influential residents have taken extensive measures to keep beachgoers out of their sandy backyards.
The lengthy legal quarrel over this access way dates back to the 1980s. Carbon Beach residents Lisette and Norman Ackerberg were required to provide a public path beside their house. Instead, they 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 Coastal 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 access ways, that is progress and a worthy endeavor," Ackerberg said through her attorney Diane Abbitt.
Jenny Price, who created an app to help people find hidden Malibu beaches, said she looks forward to more public paths.
"We have a dream that we will no longer have to fight 10 years for an access way," Price said. "We have a dream that we will get rid of all the illegal 'private parking' and 'private property' signs."
The Carbon Beach West pathway, as it's officially known, will open an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset.
The new pathway is the third to the 1 1/2-mile beach. The commission plans to open at least 18 additional paths throughout Malibu.