Surf’s Up

Locals fight to block access, but court says no

By R.E. Graswich
September 2023

Nobody mistakes Pocket and Little Pocket for Palos Verdes Estates. But there’s a connection.

All three communities border a site of natural beauty. All have residents desperate to keep outsiders away. All have local authorities who sympathize with privilege and exclusivity, even when it’s illegal and leads to threats and violence.

Palos Verdes Estates is a rich community in Los Angeles County overlooking the Pacific. The city sits above Lunada Bay, one of California’s best surf breaks.

For decades, men from Palos Verdes intimidated, vandalized and assaulted people who visited the beach.

Trouble began in the 1970s and continued for 45 years. Surfers from Sacramento to Honolulu recognized Lunada Bay as hostile territory. Surfers call such places “localized.” In Palos Verdes, authorities knew Lunada Bay was dangerously localized. They approved.

The city owns the beach. Yet local officials refused to promote public access. They stood by when a group called Lunada Bay Boys attacked surfers and vandalized cars. They didn’t care when Bay Boys built a platform of stones and wood—Rock Fort—to harass visitors.

Eventually, visitors grew sick of threats, vandalism and violence. They complained to Palos Verdes officials. Nothing changed. So the visitors sued. They said the Bay Boys and city illegally localized Lunada Bay and prevented public access.

Lawsuits meandered through the courts. Several complaints filed against individual Bay Boys produced settlements. Another suit alleged the city conspired with Bay Boys to make Lunada Bay private and prevent public access.

To prove the point, visitors said Palos Verdes police were unconcerned about harassment at Rock Fort.

The case went to trial. The visitors lost. The court said the city didn’t build Rock Fort and thus wasn’t responsible for it. As for harassment, that’s not covered by the Coastal Act, the law that protects public access to state beaches. Palos Verdes and Bay Boys cheered their victory.

That might have been the end of it. But the visitors appealed.

This year, California Second Appellate District Judge Laurence Rubin and two colleagues reversed the verdict.

Rubin declared the city was responsible for Rock Fort and the Bay Boys’ behavior. Both actions violated the Coastal Act. Why? They changed the way the public accessed the beach and ocean.

The appellate judges ruled if the Bay Boys obtained permits to build Rock Fort and block beach access, they might have been OK. But the gang lacked permits.

The court’s decision included a priceless quote from Timm Browne, former Palos Verdes police chief: “People here do not like outsiders in general. Umm, I mean, they pay a price to live here. Umm, they have beautiful views of the ocean from most of the homes in the city… so, uh, they are protective of their community as a whole, umm, I mean surfers and non-surfers.”

When I read that quote, I thought about people who live near the Sacramento River Parkway and want to block public access to the levee and river in Pocket and Little Pocket. That’s how they talk.

The words also capture the sympathy for exclusivity demonstrated by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board. If you don’t believe me, walk the levee and look for messy temporary fences thrown up by nearby property owners.

Sacramento Levee Boys aren’t as dumb as Palos Verdes Bay Boys. Here, they obtained permits. Central Valley Flood Protection Board staff granted temporary fence permits to appease a few neighbors who complained about people on the levee looking into their backyards.

The flood board ignored the true objective. Neighbors near the river don’t care about a few trespassers. They want to kill the bike trail, scheduled for construction when the Army Corps finishes levee repairs.

The state flood board and city have spent 48 years servicing a few neighbors near the levee. That’s why it’s taken a half-century to build the bike trail. Special interests get far more love than the rest of us.

Pocket and Little Pocket aren’t Palos Verdes Estates. The Costal Act doesn’t apply to our levee. There are no surf breaks at Garcia Bend. But you catch my drift.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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