By Megan Barnes
@meg_barnes on Twitter
It’s been a year and a half since crews demolished an isolated cliffside patio in Palos Verdes Estates where a group of territorial surfers known as the Bay Boys hung out for decades.
Facing pressure from the California Coastal Commission and a pair of lawsuits that drew national media attention, the city spent $67,000 to knock down the stone and cement structure, which was illegally carved into the bottom of a cliff at Lunada Bay more than 30 years ago.
With the patio jackhammered to pieces, the media blitz it attracted gone and one of the lawsuits dismissed, things have quieted down for the Bay Boys and the affluent city accused of letting them harass outsiders.
And now, a new stone structure appears to be taking shape at the crescent-shaped bay — or at least the beginnings of one.
The long stack of large rocks is about 20 feet north of where the Bay Boys’ “rock fort” once stood. It’s nowhere near as elaborate as the 300-square-foot stone patio, which had a floor, a seating and barbecue area, rooftops for shade and stone steps.
But it was enough for someone to alert the California Coastal Commission, the state agency that has urged Palos Verdes Estates to make Lunada Bay more accessible to the public.
“We’ll have to keep an eye on it.”
Andrew Willis, an enforcement supervisor for the agency’s South Coast District, said the office received photos of the rocks a few weeks ago.
Someone also seems to be collecting a pile of smaller, round stones and palm fronds that could be used for a canopy like the one that once stood near there.
“It’s much more limited at this point than the previous fort, but it could certainly develop into something that could be a problem if it’s used to harass beachgoers,” Willis said. “We’ll have to keep an eye on it.”
For years, nonlocals who tried to surf the big waves Lunada Bay produces during the winter said that Bay Boys posted at the patio threatened and harassed them. Some returned to the blufftops to find their vehicles vandalized with surfboard wax.
Local surfers say that they aren’t a gang and that the term “Bay Boys” was invented by the media. They say that localism is a normal part of surfing found at spots around the world and that Lunada Bay has been unfairly mischaracterized by media hype.
Willis said Coastal Commission staff plans to visit the bay to see what exactly has been taking shape.
The emergence of a potential new patio “speaks to the need to have some kind of policing in the area to make sure things don’t get out of control,” he said, but he acknowledged that stacking rocks is common on beaches.
“It’s a pretty typical thing to do enjoying the coastline,” Willis said. “For us, the problem with the fort really came from its use to intimidate beachgoers.”
‘Not a structure’
Palos Verdes Estates City Manager Tony Dahlerbruch said the city hasn’t received any complaints about a new structure but was made aware of “what appears to be stones arranged to form a crude seating area.”
“While the arrangement is not a structure, the City does not condone any activity that modifies the coastline and/or precludes the unobstructed use of, and access to, the coastline by all members of the public,” he said via email. “The City is investigating this matter and will dismantle any structure, should one be built, that is not in conformity with the City’s ordinances.”
Palos Verdes Estates is “committed to the safe use of all public areas, including the coastline, and the safety of the public to enjoy the coastline throughout the City,” Dahlerbruch said.
This isn’t the first time a makeshift seating area has appeared at Lunada Bay since the patio was demolished. A bench made of a tree branch and stacks of rocks could be seen at last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day anti-localism protest, when outsiders surfed Lunada Bay under the watch of police. Dahlerbruch said the city has dismantled stone seating areas several times in the past.
“The City encourages the public to inform us of any modification to the coastline,” he said. “It also discourages anyone from undertaking any activity that modifies the coastline and precludes a member of the public from enjoying use of, and access to, the coastline.”
For the recent winter surfing season, the city stepped up police patrols at Lunada Bay and installed “technological surveillance.” Dahlerbruch would not say what kind of technology is being used, though cameras and drones have been discussed in the past.
Three incidents this year
Three surfing-related incidents have been reported to police so far this year, all in mid-January.
“Two incidents had no leads, but in the third incident, the parties were identified. However, no prosecution was desired,” Dahlerbruch said.
Although a judge dismissed a federal lawsuit against the city and the Bay Boys this year, a state lawsuit is ongoing. Several surfers were added as defendants to an amended complaint filed last week.
The suit, originally filed in 2016 by two nonlocal surfers, aims to order the city to pay millions in state fines for alleged violations of the Coastal Act, accusing Palos Verdes Estates police of allowing the Bay Boys to privatize a public beach.