Late in May, a Malibu beachfront property owner invited the public--anyone, strangers--to enter his gate, walk along his deck and down his stairs to Carbon Beach. And not just on one day. He arranged for that gate to be opened four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, from sunrise to sunset. He did all this without fanfare, voluntarily, without explaining why. Coastal Commission staff were surprised and glad to cooperate, and Caltrans installed the standard “Coastal Access” sign on the Pacific Coast Highway, with an arrow pointing to the gate at 21950. You can push open this blue-green gate, walk in, and continue to the public shore.
This was an amazing thing for a beachfront homeowner to do, especially in Malibu, famous not only for glamorous residents but also for a tendency to dispatch teams of attorneys into battle against anyone trying to provide the public with more access to the public beaches they enjoy. We know little about the rebel who committed this act of unexpected civic generosity other than his name, Peter Kleidman, and that he lives in Connecticut. He seems to have little interest in publicity.
This new accessway may turn out to be temporary, though he has said he hopes to make it permanent. Perhaps it’s a theater piece. No matter. Whatever his inspiration or motive, word of his deed has delighted people who don’t own a beachhouse in Malibu. He cracked the wall that has irritated a whole lot of people for a long time.
As John Gillis writes in “Being Coastal,”: “Americans have come to identify with their coasts as with no other geographical feature. They are considered a kind of national commons.” The privatization of beach access at Malibu was a major catalyst for the 1972 voter initiative that established the most comprehensive coastal management program in the nation. Since the passage of the California Coastal Act in 1976, new development has been required to provide at least ocean view access, and about 40 percent of the coast is open to the public. See Serge Dedina’s “The Baja California Land Rush” and Sam Schuchat’s column for a picture of what could have happened without the Coastal Act.
The 1970s were, of course, a time when new and hopeful visions flourished. That era is now reverently enshrined--and also mockingly dismissed--in memoirs and stories. We are currently in an era that echoes the Middle Ages in Europe, when people sought safety behind walls, believers of different religions slaughtered each other, and the end of the world seemed close at hand. Fear was a powerful driver then, as it is now.
Disturbed and dislocated by powerful forces, both human-generated and nature’s, we tend to seek protection by installing more and bigger fences and locks on houses and gardens, keeping children out of places where they might not be under control, erecting concrete and steel barriers to contain intractable conflicts. In the long run, attempts to wall off problems don’t work. More likely, they damage things we don’t mean to destroy, and blind us to imaginative, if difficult, ways to deal with change.
At the southern edge of San Diego, which cuts across the Tijuana River watershed, yet another barrier is being constructed along the already super-fortified border with Mexico, threatening decades of restoration work in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. The triple-fence border project is driven by fear, though what is feared has lately changed. It used to be drugs, now it’s terrorists. Certainly it’s illegal aliens. And yet, as water finds its way through a crack because it must flow downhill, millions of migrants have gotten through, pushed and pulled by economic forces. We need them here for their labor, as nearly everyone engaged in the current effort to reform immigration policy has acknowledged. The border wall is a diversion from something more difficult: finding solutions to the immigration problem and the problem of terror.
I asked a teacher of the ancient martial art of t’ai chi what came to his mind at hearing the word “wall.” He said: “Something vertical and wide, something to get around, get over, or go under. And then there are people who simply appear on the other side, nobody knows how.” T’ai chi draws power from perceiving energy currents and moving with them. Surfers do something like that too. There’s no choice but to accept the ocean.
Sometimes all it takes is a small crack for water to undermine a wall, freeing the pent-up currents behind it, allowing a buried stream to come back to life. Sometimes that’s all it takes to free the imagination. A good place to think about such things, and to rediscover the American vision of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is a beach. Any beach. Including Carbon Beach, I suppose. So I want to say thank you to Peter Kleidman for that little crack in the wall, for it has invited me to such reflection--even if what he did should turn out to be a theater piece.
[Note: Indeed, Kleidman has since closed the accessway, without any explanation.]
Rusty Old Sphere Identified
On page 2 of the last issue of Coast & Ocean, we asked readers to tell us if they could identify an object that had washed ashore in the restored Sonoma Baylands. Wes Farmer, lifetime docent at the Torrey Pines Reserve in San Diego, wrote to say it looked like an old propane gas container, then wrote again: “Also looked at the possibilities that the rusty device might be connected to antisubmarine netting. Couldn’t find a picture, however.”
That’s right, confirmed Ed Ueber, ocean superintendent for the National Park Service, who was manager of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries for 15 years. Such buoys held in place a heavy steel cable with four-inch mesh strung across the Golden Gate during World War II. Two tugboats pulled it into place, and opened it when a ship had to pass. "There used to be at least 20 of these at the Navy net depot in Tiburon in the 1940s,” Ueber said. “In 1983, there was erosion during heavy storms and some were lost."