Surf shop owner and former Malibu Mayor Jefferson Wagner attended a celebrity-infused Memorial Day party on Billionaire's Beach and, according to him, all the buzz was about a beach access story in the L.A. Times.
No surprise there. My colleague Martha Groves' story that day was about Jenny Price, the activist behind a smartphone app designed to "help beachgoers outfox privacy-loving millionaires and open up the coast once and for all." So what was the take among Hollywood glitterati, moguls and other luminaries at Monday's soiree?
People didn't say they were opposed to public access, said Wagner. But they had issues.
"The major complaint was, 'With beach access comes beach responsibility," said Wagner. "Responsibility for the feces on the beach, dogs off leashes and litter."
Having covered this topic for more than a decade, I have no doubt there are morons who leave trash on the beach or, on occasion, knock on someone's door asking to use the bathroom. But when you choose to live in a public place, and enjoy the many benefits of one of the greatest coastlines in the world, shouldn't you expect a few inconveniences?
No California beach is entirely private. The point between wet sand and the water is public space. But far too much of the California coast has been cut off by development and roadblocks. In Malibu, plenty of homeowners have done their dishonest best to block access, posting "no parking" and "private beach" signs, even deploying security guards on all-terrain vehicles to shoo people away.
When liberal do-gooder David Geffen refused to allow beach access near his property back in 2002, despite having agreed to do so in return for the right to further develop his sprawling compound, there was no such thing as an app. So I tried to organize a Sand Aid concert to raise money for the legal fight to free the beaches.
The concert never came together, but if anyone tries to sue Price for directing the hoi polloi to the beach, I'm dusting off the Sand Aid idea. Her app would help direct people to beaches that are hard to find or disguised as private property.
On Tuesday morning, I met Price near the Carbon Beach home of Geffen. When I pulled off Pacific Coast Highway, though, there were no parking spaces, only driveways. So I had to do a U-turn on PCH, which can be a dangerous maneuver, and park on the other side of the road.
Price told me I could have stayed where I was. "Those are fake driveways," she said.
In other words, there are no garages where Geffen has those driveways. But the cutaways make it look like there are, apparently just to keep people away.
Any bands that are interested in playing at Sand Aid should contact me immediately.
"He's been a good neighbor, and I don't call him out anymore," Price said of Geffen. "Other than the fake garages."
The Malibu coastal plan calls for at least five beach access points per mile, Price said. But from where we stood, the next access point to the north was a mile away, and the next access to the south was about two miles away.
"Everyone in Malibu would consider themselves liberal," said Price, exaggerating maybe a little bit. But when it comes to a fundamental issue of "social equality, like beach access," you begin to hear the same, recycled complaints about the trashy visitors who foul the coast.
Another common complaint, and a legitimate one, is that there's too little parking, and crossing PCH on foot is a roll of the dice.
Sure, said Price, but the solution isn't to keep everyone away. It's to get the city of Malibu and other public agencies to provide more parking, restrooms, trash bins and patrols, if not lifeguards.
For all the complaints from people with beach houses, a lot of them are seldom there. They've got other houses, naturally, and as I walked Carbon Beach with Price, we didn't see anyone at any of the homes except one, where a security guard patrolled the perimeter.
A young man named Shane, who was walking his dogs, said his parents live in Malibu and he thinks the beach app is "a lovely idea."
"I think the beach is free for everyone," and making it off limits is "like laying claim to the ocean."
Wagner, who owns Zuma Jay's, said he thinks about 90% of the people who find their way to obscure beaches clean up after themselves, but the other 10% can ruin the party for others.
Liza Bercovici, who owns a small beach cottage on Malibu Road, said she's all for the app.
"I just tell people, 'Look, you're welcome to be here, but you have to clean up after yourself.'"
Price said she thought the biggest beneficiaries of her beach app would be Malibu residents who don't live on the water but would make more beach trips if they knew the secrets of how to get there.
"I think it's a great idea," said Malibu resident and former California Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan. "I think the public needs to have a way to know what's legal, because the rules and posting and signs about what is or isn't open to the public is confusing."
Price, who began compiling her guide for the news site LAObserved.com, teamed with Ben Adair to make the beach access app. They're nearing the end of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, with a goal of making the app available on Android as well as iPhones. It would be free all summer.
To find out more about the app, or to join the battle to liberate the beaches, go to http://www.ourmalibubeaches.com.