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Malibu Beaches – Private & Public Rights

article courtesy of Malibu Coastal Vision and the City of Malibu

There are over seven miles of beaches in Malibu that are owned by public agencies.  In addition, there are 18 vertical access ways throughout the community, providing public access to the entire coastline.

These beach accesses are located all along the coast.  In addition to the county and state beaches, there  are 113.3 acres of public beaches within the City limits.

malibu travelThe public beaches in Malibu intermingle with stretches of private waterfront.  Determining where public beaches end, and private property begins can be difficult.  Technically, the mean high tide line constitutes the divide between public and private.  During low tide, a visitor may walk along the beach freely in the public domain.  At high tide, however, the same stretch of beach may be legally impassible without trespassing.

In Malibu and throughout the State of California, all land below mean high tide is public.  The State of California has developed the doctrine to protect public access to the beach for recreation, navigation, commerce, and fisheries. The California Coastal Act aims to maximize public access to and along the shore line; and the California Constitution protects the right of way to California’s waters for public purposes.

According to the Coastal Act, the public is entitled to access the coast and recreational facilities, and these rights are paramount, taking precedence over private residential development.

The 1976 Coastal Act “maximizes public access to, and along the coast, and maximizes public recreational opportunities in the coastal zone, consistent with sound resource conservation principles and constitutionally protected rights of private property owners.”

Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors maintains 17 improved and open accesses to Malibu

jc cadena photography
jc cadena photography

beaches there are not part of the County or state beaches.   These improve easements typically consist of a gate locked at sundown and cement stairs or a walkway to the beach.  There are no lifeguard or sanitation facilities.

Of the 17 access ways, six are from pacific Coast Highway, five from Malibu Road and six from Broad Beach Road.  There are three sites classified as “Open Viewing Sites.” While the County’s beaches were previously believed to provide sufficient access, the Coastal Commission mandated the opening of more beach easements.  Even when the agency has an opportunity to request an easement for public walkway it has to partner with public or nonprofit organizations to pay for building the access way and maintaining it.  At this time, there are few resources available for making such improvements.

Clearly some balance must be struck between private property rights and the rights of the public to access natural resources.

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