Malibu's Broad Beach Residents Plot New $20 Million Plan to Stop Sand Erosion

Pacific Coast News

After rejection from other coastal cities, the bold-faced names of Broad Beach are looking to Ventura County to replace their eroding beachfront as environmentalists continue their outcry.

This story first appeared in the May 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The battle for broad beach is headed a few miles up the coast. For several years, the wealthy, well-connected residents of the exclusive oceanfront enclave at the north end of Malibu have been fighting both Mother Nature and environmentalists over their plan to tax themselves $20 million to widen their shore, which has eroded in recent decades to a slender strip unrecognizable from its namesake. But the homeowners -- who include Michael Ovitz, Steven Spielberg, Dustin Hoffman, Danny DeVito and Steve Levitan -- have been stymied in their original quest to dredge sand from the waters of nearby coastline stretches, including Dockweiler near LAX in Los Angeles and the waters beyond Manhattan Beach. (The latter city's mayor told the local paper, "What I would say to the Broad Beach folks is, 'Keep on moving.' ")

Now THR has learned that the residents are looking to purchase sand found in marine deposits at one of several suitable Ventura County quarries. "We will go out to bid once we get our final permitting" from the State Lands and Coastal commissions, says Ken Ehrlich, an attorney for a legal entity formed by the homeowners to collectively overcome the problem. "We're hopeful to begin the actual work in September or October, then work through next spring, so the beach is fully restored by next summer."

So why didn't the Broad Beach homeowners save time and expense by targeting privately owned inland sand in the first place? "The short answer is that ocean-borne sand is a far cheaper project," says Ehrlich, who admits the residents' $20 million budget eventually might have to be revised upward. "You can move greater quantities more quickly. And the vessel we had wanted to use to obtain ocean sand holds it at 6,000 cubic yards per load. Trucks can only [carry] 20 cubic yards per load. It's more cost and a longer process. The unavailability of the ocean sand made this our only viable option."

Mark Abramson, the senior watershed advisor at the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and an ongoing critic of both the impact and sustainability of the Broad Beach homeowners' plan, remains unimpressed. (Ehrlich himself says the sand is projected to remain only for at most a decade.) Abramson is wary of the implementation of such a scheme amid what's shaping up as potentially the most intense El Nino weather pattern of the past two decades. Previous El Nino patterns -- in which warmer Pacific Ocean waters produce stronger storms than southern California beaches typically see -- have produced some of the most dramatic shoreline erosion at Broad Beach.

"[The restoration] would last, what, literally a day?" says Abramson. "You can't beat Mother Nature. This seems insane to me but I don't have that kind of disposable income, so who am I to say?"