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Malibu resident relents, provides access to "Billionaire's Beach"

By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Access to one of California's most exclusive strips of sand will soon become easier as a Malibu homeowner settles a decade-long legal battle that will result in a paved path to Carbon Beach, better known as "Billionaire's Beach."

The mile-long sandy strip boasts beach getaways owned by record mogul David Geffen, former Dodgers Chief Executive Jamie McCourt, and Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison. It also has been home to many movie stars, including John Travolta, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Top architects including Michael Graves and Richard Meier built many of the residences.

Now one of the beach's residents, Lisette Ackerberg, has settled a longstanding dispute with the California Coastal Commission over beach access, the commission said Friday.

Ackerberg, the widow of Minnesota developer Norman Ackerberg and the daughter of Raymond Friedman, founder of financial-services company Refco, has agreed to pay $1.1 million and construct a paved pathway to be built by the end of 2014 from the Pacific Coast Highway across her property to the beach.

The Coastal Commission had been fighting since the early 2000s to get Ackerberg to comply with easements, or public rights of way, on her property. Ackerberg had sued the commission in 2009 in an attempt to overturn a cease-and-desist order it had filed to force her to clear the easements.

The disagreement underscores the difficulty of making good on a principal enshrined in California's constitution: that the state's beaches are public. But private landowners are not always required to allow access to the coastline across their property, and many disputes have arisen over the years - often involving wealthy beachfront homeowners.

In a similar case in northern California, beach lovers on Thursday staged a protest at San Mateo County's Martin's Beach. The access road has been closed since soon after the property was bought by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in 2008.

Earlier this week, Surfrider Foundation, a coastal protection group, filed a lawsuit to open access to Martin's Beach, arguing that closing the approach amounted to a violation of the state's Coastal Act, which governs issues including shoreline access.

In Ackerberg's case, she had been fighting two easements dating from the 1980s that provided for beach access on her property. She had put up several impediments that blocked the easements, including large boulders, a fence, a wall and a tennis court.

A 2011 order from a California Superior Court judge required her to clear the right of way, but Ackerberg appealed the decision. Late last year, the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

"Although the Commission and I disagreed for several years about the meaning of the terms of the permits governing my property, I am pleased that the matter has been resolved," Ackerberg said in a press release. She also said she was pleased the access would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, "something of great importance to me and my late husband."

A lawyer for Ackerberg, David Codell, referred a caller back to her statement in the press release.

"It's unfortunate that so much time, and so many resources had to be wasted over the last decade trying to get the public their rightful access to the beach," said Mary Shallenberger, chairwoman of the Coastal Commission. "But this is an outcome we can all feel proud of, and we are grateful to Mrs. Ackerberg for stepping forward and doing the right thing for the people of California."

The dispute echoes record mogul Geffen's long battle to prevent use of a walkway on his property along the same stretch of Malibu beach. In 1983, Geffen agreed to allow a pathway to Carbon Beach when he sought permits for a pool and other additions, but he later filed suit to fight the access. In 2005, Geffen settled the suit and allowed the public to use the walkway.

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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