By Ken Hegan for MSN

Want to relax in the sand on Billionaire’s Beach in Malibu?

Good luck with that. Carbon Beach is a beautiful 2.4-km beach with the deepest, driest, and possibly prettiest sand in L.A. For decades, it’s been a secluded enclave that’s extremely difficult for outsiders to find and enjoy.


No Trespassing sign at Carbon Beach, California (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Malibu’s wealthy residents have gone to great lengths to keep out miscreants and ne’er-do-wells like you and me. To discourage the masses, locals have dropped orange ‘no parking’ cones, hung illegal No Trespassing and No Parking signs, built restraining walls and fake garage doors, hired gruff security guards, padlocked gates, and concealed other gates behind tall hedges. And they will tow your car at the drop of a top hat.

According to a great story in the New York Times, the tactics are working: 32 out of the 43 kilometers of stunning Malibu coastline are inaccessible to the Great Unwashed.

Carbon Beach is a perfect example of beach inequality. In the 1930s, the area was subdivided by Malibu’s founding family, the Rindges, and there are now 70 beachfront properties. Used to be cheap-ish to live here (I distinctly remember a ’70s private eye who lived in a rusty trailer by the Malibu sand), but realtors are now commanding $200,000 per foot of beachfront. Enter the very, very rich.

“Carbon Beach is home to the people who write the checks in Hollywood,” realtor Stephen Shapiro told Forbes. Current residents of this expensive, tight-knit sandbox include Hollywood megaproducer Joel Silver, Pretty Woman producer Arnon Milchan, retired 007 Pierce Brosnan, DreamWorks mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, music/film mogul David Geffen, Microsoft owner Paul Allen, Hard Rock Cafe co-founder Peter Morton, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison who owns 10 (!) beachfront homes and lots.

Their ridiculously stylish homes are worth a fortune. Yet unlike some heavily-fortified compounds you find in Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills, Carbon Beach’s beachfront homes aren’t completely gated and aggressively guarded by (I’m guessing) ruthless child soldiers.


A regular citizen outside David Geffen’s mansion on Carbon Beach, California (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

In theory, California law states that you can’t privately wall off the sparkling white sand…the people must have some form of access. After all, they’re called ‘public beaches’ because the public owns them.

Mzl.omasywfy.320x480-75But thanks to a helpful new iPhone app, beach access suddenly got way easier.Our Malibu Beaches is the brainstorm of environmental writer Jenny Price. She partnered with tech developers Escape Apps to create an app offering all the info you need to enjoy 32 kilometers of the most beautiful, hard to find beaches in Southern California, including Carbon Beach.

Price’s free app includes:

* How to find elusive accessways
* Where you’re free to walk and spread your towel
* Which fake “No Trespassing” and “No Parking” signs you can totally, legally ignore

The app is a boon to tourists and surf lovers who would otherwise need to wade through stacks of research and legal documents to find these hidden beach gems. As the Times reports, “there are 17 public access ways to the Malibu coastline” yet state law says “there should be more than 100. The last time one was opened was in 2005.”

Price saw the problem and went to Kickstarter for the solution. Thanks to 803 financial backers (one of whom contributed a whopping $3.81), she raised over $32,000 to produce the app. Naturally she celebrated with a beach party.

So what’s in the app?

When you open it on your phone, Our Malibu Beaches informs you that you are legally allowed to enjoy Malibu beaches below the ‘mean high tide line’, i.e. the average high tide over the last 18.6 years. And you’re allowed to enjoy it 24/7, 365 days a year. Take that, zillionaire plutocrats!

The app gives you maps to find hidden entry gates, where you’re free to put your towel on the dry sand, Top 5 Malibu Beaches, Top 10 Facts about Malibu Beach Access, house-by-house descriptions that shows public property boundaries, and where you can take a “moonlight stroll, even after some of the gates close”.

Mzl.qdyycuve.320x480-75The app also gives you tide alerts, tide schedules, etiquette, and advice on how to deal with counterfeit No Parking signs (“feel free to enjoy and then ignore”) and property owners who threaten you (“they’re welcome to call the sheriff”). Hopefully they won’t call your bluff…you do NOT want to be interrogated by the Malibu cop from The Big Lebowski.

Naturally, some Malibu residents are horrified by the app and believe it will lead to swarms of ruffians/gangs/zombies who will litter the beach with the usual garbage, excrement, and severed human organs.

“There are plenty of places that have bathrooms, lifeguards, parking,” resident Wendy Ledner said to the NY Times. “There are none of those facilities at these beaches. People come through, they urinate, defecate, they leave their garbage — there are no garbage pails. They can’t park; there is no parking, so they block driveways.”

Personally, I think it’s quaint to hear this NIMBY mentality in Southern California. Especially since, back in the 1800s, California was stolen from the Mexicans who no doubt stole it from somebody else.

Yep, Carbon Beach’s residents are a little too eager to keep out the riffraff. But look at the bright side: unlike the old Mafia dons in Las Vegas, at least Carbon Beach’s powerful citizens haven’t whacked unwanted trespassers and buried them under the sand (well, as far as we know).

Our Malibu Beaches is a free app (for now) on iPhone/iPad. An Android version comes out this fall for $1.99.

What do you think…do apps like Our Malibu Beaches cause more harm than good? Or are they a godsend to non-gazillionaire tourists and beach lovers?

— Ken Hegan


Read more of Ken’s travel stories here

Twitter: @KenHegan

App images courtesy Jenny Price and Our Malibu Beaches