PCH — With summer in full swing, the recent launch of a new iPhone app designed to identify hidden public access points along Malibu’s 27 miles of beaches made big news. Many hailed the app as a victory for public access over NIMBYism, while some local residents worried about an influx of visitors to areas without adequate sanitation, lifeguards or police.
This week, The Malibu Times put the controversial app to the test to see whether the information actually does provide easy access to the hidden beaches and whether there were restrooms, lifeguards and other beach amenities present.
We were able to access the beaches we selected with relative ease, but the app left something to be desired when we found ourselves strolling in the sand with very little more than ocean and rocks ahead — and no warning.
The app, co-created by Jenny Price, began making waves in May when a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign launched to create an app providing information where hidden accessways in Malibu can be found. Since its June 1 iTunes release, it has been downloaded about 16,000 times and garnered a 4.5 (out of 5) user rating, which comes as a pleasant surprise to its creator.
“The app has exceeded my expectations in a number of ways,” Price said. “We wanted the app to be user-friendly. I’m super pleased that people are finding it so easy to use.”
The app contains access points for 25 Malibu beaches. Many are smaller beaches in the middle of residential areas. Others are currently closed because they are tied up in litigation on behalf of landowners and residents wishing to keep the land private.
Though full of easy-to-comprehend information about how to access the beaches, the app lacks information about lifeguards and restrooms. In some cases a more clearly defined explanation of exactly how difficult some beaches are to access is needed. Users of the otherwise helpful app should proceed with caution.
Only five of Malibu’s beaches — Zuma, Nicholas, Point Dume, Corral and Surfrider — have established lifeguard stations.
Zuma Beach lifeguard Capt. Remy Smith said the smaller “pocket beaches,” such as Escondido, are always patrolled by a two-man LR300 unit and an area captain, but there is no established lifeguard tower. Both Smith and the app caution against using beaches without a lifeguard present.
“The thing is, the ocean is ultimately always in charge,” Smith said. “You never know what the ocean’s going to do. That’s why we have so many towers spread all over Zuma.”
Price does caution beachgoers that not every beach will have bathrooms or trash cans in a section of the app titled “The Basics.” However, those facts could benefit users more if it were included with the information about each individual beach.
Latigo Beach is one of the more accessible beaches with disputed private-public lands. It is located just behind a row of houses off Pacific Coast Highway, with an easy-to-find set of stairs leading down to the beach from a private street. Residents, however, prefer the beach to remain a secret. They said that not only do beachgoers fail to recognize the mean-tide line, but they also fail to respect private property when it comes to waste.
“People are too lazy to walk so they’ll pee on the stairs,” said Susan Kay Udry, a visitor from Woodland Hills. Udry uses Latigo’s private sands with the permission of a friend who owns one of the beachfront homes.
All of Malibu’s beaches are public below the mean-tide line. This is usually a point of dispute between private homeowners and public beach users. Price uses wet sand as a rule-of-thumb for partially private beaches. If sand is wet, it’s below the mean-tide line and therefore available for public use, she says. If it’s dry, it might be on private property.
Richard Spillane, a friend of a Latigo Beach homeowner, said beachgoers often fail to recognize the difference and will use beach chairs left on the beaches by homeowners without realizing they are on private property.
While Price’s research clearly explains where access points are, the app lacks more detailed information about difficult-to-reach points.
Point Dume Natural Preserve, for example, is less accessible than nearby Zuma Beach because beachgoers must first trek down a cliff using a carefully hidden staircase. Price explains the path informally and does not mention that several steps along the steep staircase are loose or decaying.
Regulars say they prefer the beach’s questionable accessibility because they like the isolation.
“It’s beautiful. There are great waves. It’s isolated,” said Venice resident Miguel Bouquet, a frequent surfer. “Access is not perfect but if there was better access, it would be full of people.”
Parking is not perfect either, with only about 10 two-hour spots near the top of the cliff. All other street parking is marked with “no parking” signs for about half a mile in every direction.
“Our Malibu Beaches” does include suggestions about where to park, exact walking directions on how to access the beach and provides public transportation information.
Price also warns users whether parking is easily accessible from individual access points, but notes that some walking routes may be unsafe, especially when crossing PCH.
This article first appeared in The Malibu Times.