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Malibu seawall sparks controversy over access

February 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A $4-million seawall is going up in Malibu as local residents like Goldie Hawn and Steven Spielberg take out their checkbooks to fight beach erosion and protect their exclusive million-dollar estates. High tides and heavy surf have taken their toll. Now residents are spearheading their own seawall. It would go up along Malibu's famed Broad Beach.

A few days ago, an emergency order was issued to build a temporary rock wall to protect about 80 homes on the street from rising ocean water. Residents are paying for the construction out of their own pockets.

A mountain of rocks is driven by truck from Corona and then, one by one, the rocks are lowered onto Broad Beach in Malibu. In about a month, a 4,000-foot-long wall of rock will be protecting some of the most expensive homes in the country from the rising Pacific Ocean.

"These rocks were just put in very hastily the other day because all of mine went out," said Malibu resident Wini Lumsden.

Lumsden has been living on Broad Beach since the 1950s. Some of her neighbors include Dustin Hoffman and Danny DeVito. A YouTube video taken last Friday shows ocean water engulfing her back yard and deck during high tide.

"We're very concerned about protecting the part of our house, that isn't necessarily visible, but is important to maintain," said Lumsden.

Which is why homeowners here have agreed to restore the beach. An estimated $50 million worth of private money will be spent to build the wall and then bring in a million cubic yards of sand.

But Zuma Beach resident Hans Laetz is concerned. A few years ago controversy was sparked over wealthy residents trying to keep the public off the beach.

"Right now they're trying to save their houses, and they need to do that," said Laetz. "But they also need to make a commitment to put sand back on the ocean-side of the rocks so that there is a beach for the public."

Malibu City Councilman Andy Stern said there may be high-powered celebrities funding this project but the city and the California Coastal Commission believe residents will be faithful to the public.

"It's necessary," said Stearn. "Without it, they'll lose their homes. They'll lose their septic tanks. They'll lose their leach fields. So no one wants to spend the money. But they're under emergency conditions. They have to."

Lumsden may not have the income of Steven Spielberg, but she will be pitching in. She is well aware of the consequences if she doesn't.

"Everybody loses. Everybody. There's no beach then for anyone. If we don't do it, then it will not be done," said Lumsden.

Project organizers are seeking ways to fill sand on the beach. They could either dredge it out of the ocean or they could truck it in.

The project is slated to cost about $50 million. It could take up to five years to complete.


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