Hollywood hypocrites

Published July 1, 2002

When people think of Hollywood and politics, they are likely to envision Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, or any of a host of politically active stars waxing poetic about the environment and volunteering their efforts to raise money for the common cause.

When Redford rails against large families driving gas-guzzling SUVs, the public generally gives him a free pass for riding around town in a yet-more-gas-guzzling limousine or flying about the country in a still-more-gas-guzzling private jet. After all, the public reasons, celebrities fight hard for good causes and their hearts are in the right place.

The days of free passes for celebrities may be over, however, in light of recent developments making news in the Golden State.

The People vs. Malibu

Billionaire mogul David Geffen, singer-actress Julie Andrews, producer-director Blake Edwards, and other Hollywood hotshots are at war with Access for All, an environmentalist group seeking to make the scenic Malibu beaches available to ordinary people.

In California and most other states, citizens have a right to stroll, fish, or simply plant an umbrella and beach towel anywhere on the shore below the high-tide line. In Malibu, a privileged retreat for the Hollywood elite, the general public has little access to the famously scenic beaches due to a lack of public access routes.

Although Hollywood stars are famously vocal about egalitarianism and environmental activism, the big stars are curiously silent about Access for All’s efforts to open up the public beaches in Malibu. In fact, in a town home to the likes of Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Ryan O’Neal, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, and Pierce Brosnan, the stars have been downright hostile to the liberal goals of the environmental group.

Along the 27-mile stretch of spectacular Malibu coastline, only four paths connect the Pacific Coast Highway to the shore. Even these paths are of little use, as parking is difficult and dangerous along the highway.

Hollywood big shots have erected intimidating “private property” and “no trespassing” signs of misleading legal merit along the beaches to deter any common citizens who find their way to the shore. Others have erected chain-link fences, often constructed on public property below the high-tide line, to physically obstruct those who disregard the misleading signs.

To rectify the situation, the California Coastal Commission is proposing 10 new public rights-of-way to the Malibu beaches. The Commission itself cannot hold property, but it usually has no trouble encouraging environmentalist groups and local governments to manage public property and public access routes. Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, and Orange counties have already eagerly assumed responsibility for public beach access. The towns of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach have also stepped up on behalf of common citizens. In famously liberal Malibu, however, the town is doing everything possible to keep the common citizen out.

Democratic leader calls Malibu’s bluff

That’s where Access for All has stepped in. Steve Hoye, a former president of the Malibu Democratic Club, decided it was time he and his famous Malibu neighbors practice what they preach.

Hoye formed Access for All to help the public assert its right to share the spectacular beaches that lawfully belong to the public. The group volunteered to hold and manage the Coastal Commission’s proposed new rights-of-way. Hoye has quickly become the most shunned man in a town in which he was previously quite popular. Indeed, of Malibu’s 13,000 citizens, only two volunteered to join Access for All. Most others in town curse him for disrupting their ultra-elite retreat.

David Geffen, billionaire Hollywood mogul and buddy of famous liberal activist Steven Spielberg, has taken the lead in trying to ruin Access for All. Geffen has threatened to pour his vast monetary resources into legal action against the group, though on what grounds is anybody’s guess.

Sounding like a B actor in “Conspiracy Theory,” Malibu Mayor Jeff Jennings accused Access for All of seeking to open access near Geffen’s property simply as a means to persecute Geffen on account of his fame and celebrity. “People who have high profiles are very vulnerable,” said Jennings.

“Nobody’s targeting Mr. Geffen because of his popularity and fame,” replied Hoye. If Hollywood popularity and fame were a free pass for celebrities to keep the public from accessing nearby beaches, where could public access ever be protected in Malibu?

Seeking to put their Hollywood dollars to work for them, singer-actress Julie Andrews and her producer-director husband Blake Edwards developed a novel way to buy off the state. After the couple learned a public access path might be built near their house, they paid the state $338,000 in 1991 to finance a staircase and public access path near the cliff-top home of Frank Mancuso, former head of MGM Pictures. The staircase and access path have never been built, though the state has kept the money.

Mancuso, in turn, borrowed a page from Andrews’ book and offered to give the state money for a busing program to transport citizens to beaches away from his own.

In another case of money-trumps-principle, Nancy Daly Riordan (wife of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan), billionaire financier Eli Broad, and Hollywood producer Haim Saban paid the state $1 million to open a not-quite-so-scenic public beach in nearby La Costa Beach, rather than construct a public access path near their Malibu beachfront mansions.

“It’s exclusivity, is what it is,” explained Linda Locklin, director of the Coastal Commission’s beach access program. “They’re not used to the public, they’ve gotten very happy with that situation.”

Hoye questioned the propriety of Hollywood stars—who campaign mightily against other people buying, developing, and claiming exclusive access to scenic property—failing to allow public access to the most scenic beaches in the world, even though the public owns the land.

“These people can afford to have a $5 million home for a second home, and they’re never there, and yet they still want it locked up,” said Hoye. “It ain’t your backyard, buddy. It belongs to the people.”