To Open or Not to Open: Malibu’s Most Exclusive Beaches

Travel along California’s lengthy Highway 1, and you’ll be treated to some of the most stunning coastline in the country. Indeed, there are innumerable state beaches, from San Diego to Crescent City, where weary road trippers can abscond when the miles begin to take their toll. But try strolling down to those little stretches of sand fronting multi-million-dollar homes in Malibu and you’ll likely get run off like a two-bit horse thief. Case in point: entertainment mogul and longtime Malibu resident David Geffen has gotten pretty creative at preventing regular folks from enjoying the sand near his home.

Yes, for years it has been a war between Malibu’s fabulously wealthy landowners and the sun-seeking hoi polloi. It was a battle between the California Costal Commission and property owners that seemed destined to rage forever—until a 2015 ruling opened up previously exclusive Carbon Beach to the masses. Here’s everything you need to know about how the former “Billionaires’ Beach” now has public access.

The ground rules

The Coastal Commission has firm rules in place regarding coastal access, and these are codified in California law. Basically, the public has a right to all beaches and trails leading to those beaches, so long as they don’t move above the high-tide line, which is regarded as the end of any beachfront property.

Give and take

The Coastal Commission doesn’t wield its power with an iron fist. In fact, the rule of thumb has always been negotiation over all else. Residents that want to add a pool or a tennis court to their existing property, for example, are often granted permits in exchange for allowing public access to the beach through their property. This was at the root of the Carbon Beach issue.

The Ackerberg situation

Lisette Ackerberg, a resident of Carbon Beach, was issued a development permit as far back as the 1980s, and only in 2015 did she uphold her end of the bargain and allow public coastal access through her property. And this is only after she was forced to do so by coastal regulators.

From a legal standpoint, the trend favors public access to beaches. But Malibu residents have been pretty adept at circumventing legal decisions and preventing beach access for years and even decades. What do you think—is it okay that Californians have a fundamental right to enjoy all beaches, provided they don’t encroach on high-tide property lines? Or are the cranky homeowners in the right when they yell at the unwashed masses to “get off my lawn!”