Judge rules for coastal access rights in landmark Malibu lawsuit
By Paul Benton
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant delivered a long-awaited ruling last week when he sided with California coastal regulators and ordered a public path to be built beside a private beachfront mansion in Malibu. The case in question, which pitted homeowner Lisette Ackerberg against the California Coastal Commission, highlighted the divide between wealthy property owners and coastal access advocates; and now, Chalfant’s ruling may impact the future exclusivity of beaches in Malibu and throughout the state of California.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Ackerberg was found to have avoided public access alterations to her property by negotiating a private settlement with Access for All, the nonprofit entrusted with building an open-access pathway near her home. Representatives for the non-profit group agreed to cease construction plans for the pathway in exchange for $250,000 – a deal that prompted outrage amongst coastal regulators and inspired heated protest from public access advocates.
Coastal development permits dating from the 1980s required Ackerberg to maintain a 10-foot-wide easement in order to allow public access to the coast. When faced with a cease-and-desist order from the Coastal Commission after repeated protests to the permit terms, Ackerberg filed suit. However, Chalfant’s ruling now upholds the California-wide principle of public beach access for all – and emphasizes the responsibilities involved in oceanfront property ownership for residents everywhere from San Francisco to Malibu to San Diego.
Understanding coastal access: a guide to San Diego beachfront properties
California is among the few states with strict coastal access laws – measures reinforced by the establishment of the Coastal Commission in 1975 and designed to preserve public access to the beaches, views and natural features that distinguish our stunning coastal environment. Over time, these laws came to define parameters for architectural development along the coast: and while such parameters are crucial for the protection of beloved beach access rights and environmental integrity, they can also pose a challenge to anyone undertaking a beachfront development venture in San Diego and the surrounding area.
Ackerberg’s case is a prime example of such a challenge, and one in which the Coastal Commission’s laws come squarely into play. However, San Diego architects deal with this principle on a daily basis — and while homeowners may see access-friendly alteration as an invasion of privacy, it’s ultimately the architect’s job to create solutions that blend public convenience with homeowner privacy, comfort and aesthetics. A variety of design elements can help maintain coastal access, such as:
- Careful study of historic development that respects the relationship to the ocean and the neighborhood
- Strategic window and door placement to preserve views and privacy, and to hide beach traffic
- Seawall ledges and landings to defend property while permitting access
- Structure placement and careful exterior wall design
- Site planning that preserves private spaces and views, balanced with the expected increase in public traffic
At Alcorn & Benton, we consider public access maintenance a priority and a privilege; and by blending an intimate knowledge of Coastal Commission requirements with technical expertise and creative envisioning, we ensure commission compliance and client satisfaction in each and every project. Our consultants have handled all aspects of the coastal permit process, and offer clients a unique take on the responsibilities involved in beachfront property ownership. To learn more about the coastal commission and examples of our design approach, visit us online: www.alcornbenton.com.
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