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Waging A 'No Parking' War Along Malibu's Beaches

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A trip to the beaches of Southern California is the perfect summer getaway - if you can find a place to park. And in the city of Malibu, some of the locals would rather you didn't. Fake no-parking signs line the coast where public parking is actually allowed.

As NPR's Daniel Hajek reports, distinguishing between the illegal signs and the real ones, is not easy.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLE)

DANIEL HAJEK, BYLINE: Pat Veesart speeds along in his old, white pickup. He's passing the Bentleys and Ferraris cruising Malibu's picturesque stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. He's with the California Coastal Commission. And today, he's on the hunt. Veesart pulls off to point out some official-looking no-parking signs in front of a house.

PAT VEESART: That sign and this sign both are not real signs. Then this sign down here is not a real sign.

HAJEK: For years, coastal residents have put up fake no-parking signs near public beaches to keep tourists away and the paparazzi out of star-studded neighborhoods. Veesart says the illegal signs are all over Malibu's 21-mile coastline.

VEESART: The number of violations out there far exceed our ability to address them. It's very frustrating.

HAJEK: And it's not just the signs. He's seen fake garage doors with curb cutsm and driveways that lead to nowhere - all violations of the California Coastal Act, which protects public access to beaches.

VEESART: The beach is for everybody. It's not just for the folks who live in Malibu. It's for the farm worker and his kids that live in Fresno. They get to go to the beach, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLE)

JAMES ALLEN: It's all completely bogus. There's nothing they can do to stop people going on the beach.

HAJEK: James Allen lives an hour inland, in Sherman Oaks; and he's visiting Malibu's popular Zuma Beach, along with his daughter.

ALLEN: But at the same time, I do understand. You pay a lot of money to live on the beach. You don't want people camping out in front of your house.

JENNY PRICE: I'm Jenny Price...

HAJEK: Just up the road, Jenny Price is leading a small tour group. To do so, she's using an app that she's created, called Our Malibu Beaches.

PRICE: So the app is a no-more-secrets guide to the beaches of Malibu that are lined with private development.

HAJEK: Gathered around a fake no-parking sign, they're utilizing the app's interactive map to pinpoint the hidden access ways that lead to the ocean.

PRICE: This is advanced beach-going.

HAJEK: A car slowly passes by.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ooh...

HAJEK: The driver stares suspiciously.

(LAUGHTER)

PRICE: You know, I'm not really down here to get into a fight with anyone.

HAJEK: The tour quickly heads down to the ocean, through a gate plastered with fake private-property signs. The beach is practically deserted, except for a few Malibu residents. Among them is Lisa Deutsch, who says she didn't know about the fake signs.

LISA DEUTSCH: So fake no-parking signs? I never heard of that. There are no-parking signs, but I don't think they're fake.

HAJEK: Malibu City Councilwoman Laura Zahn Rosenthal says the signs are a problem, but most residents here aren't putting them up.

LAURA ZAHN ROESNTHAL: Malibu has a lot of people that moved here 40 years ago. They're not rich. They're not celebrities. And most of Malibu is very, very welcoming.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE TONI ATKINS: Frankly, we've got 1,100 miles, and there are issues up and down the coastline.

HAJEK: That's State Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, from San Diego.

ATKINS: There's un-permitted development which occurs, illegally filling in wetlands or waterways; un-permitted removal of vegetation; illegal sand extraction.

HAJEK: Atkins says there are over 600 backlogged cases of coastal access violations stretching all the way up to Santa Cruz, on California's central coast.

ATKINS: The coastal commission basically has no authority to really go after those violators.

HAJEK: And without the authority to issue a fine, she says it'll just keep happening. So she authored a bill to change that. It's making its way through the state legislature and would enable the California Coastal Commission to issue fines.

VEESART: I've described it as kind of like Whack-A-Mole. You know, you get a few of them taken out, and then a few more pop up.

HAJEK: Back in Pat Veesart's truck, he says all of the privatizing of public space is overwhelming. The understaffed and underfunded coastal commission constantly re-prioritizes its list of violations.

VEESART: And public access always is at the top of that list. The public really wants us to protect coastal access.

HAJEK: He says that's his job - making sure Malibu's 13,000 residents share the beach with the city's 15 million annual visitors.

Daniel Hajek, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.