- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

MALIBU, Calif. (AP) — Before getting to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, it helps to know a few things about the law — and the locals.

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 been posting bogus “no parking” and “private beach” signs here and elsewhere.

They’ve done it so effectively in Malibu for so long that unfortunate beachgoers occasionally get ticketed.

“It doesn’t sound like a big deal to put in a sign or two,” said Linda Locklin, of the California Coastal Commission. “But pretty soon if you have all the public access ways with signs or gates, it’s a huge problem.”

The promise of safe passage to the sea is just one front the commission concedes it’s losing amid budget constraints.

Development projects the agency must review are put on hold, communities are left without an updated blueprint for regulating growth along their shore, and the state can’t process paperwork to accept offers of free land.

Since 1980, while inflation has increased 160 percent, the commission’s total funding has risen only 9 percent — from $13.5 million to $16.3 million. At times it has been cut nearly in half.

The commission’s full-time staff has been slashed from 200 in 1980 to 138 today; only 11 enforcement officers investigate violations along the 1,100-mile coastline.

“We haven’t had an officer north of San Francisco since 2001,” said Lisa Haage, the agency’s chief of enforcement. “It’s a full-day drive, and then we can’t pay for a hotel.”

With so few watching, residents have built illegal homes on wetlands near the Oregon line, and developers have graded over coastal sage scrub in the Santa Monica Mountains. They were eventually caught and are in the process of being punished, but the damage was done.

Officers can only resolve about a dozen complaints a year, leaving hundreds of other cases languishing — from complaints about neighbors constructing fences without permits to a developer not building a promised public walkway.

“We do the best we can, but things fall through the cracks,” said Peter Douglas, the commission’s longtime director. “It’s been an extremely frustrating experience.”

Voters established the largely independent, quasi-judicial commission in 1972 out of growing concern that rampant development would eclipse the state’s world-famous beaches, as well as the average person’s ability to get to them. The commission is composed of 12 voting members appointed by the governor, the state Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly speaker.

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