While neither localism nor disputes over beach access are anything new, the Federal Class Action Lawsuit aimed at the group of Palos Verdes Estates locals known to impede access to Lunada Bay is unprecedented. Accusations of assault, vandalism, and police negligence have attracted national media attention, and the issue of restricted access has drawn the ire of the California Coastal Commission. Plus, there's a gang injunction being brought against a group allegedly composed largely of third-generation millionaires.
All of these factors are conspiring to bring about the end of an era at one of California's most notoriously localized surf zones.
Filed in California on Tuesday by lead plaintiffs Diana Melina Reed, Cory Spencer, and a group called the Coastal Protection Rangers, the lawsuit asks that a judge require the municipality to prosecute crimes committed by a group of surfers known locally as the Lunada Bay Boys. The lawsuit seeks to fine nine named defendants (with the potential to add dozens more) $30,000 each and bar each "gang-member" from surfing the point for an unspecified amount of time.
This wouldn't be the first time locals were banned from their home breaks. In 2003, a federal court in San Francisco prohibited two Fort Point locals from admission to all federal beaches for a period of three years, after the duo's brutal assault of a visitor was caught on film. Like the situation at Fort Point's famed novelty left, there is said to be video evidence in the Lunada Bay case, as well.
The Bay Boys have survived lawsuits before. In 1996, a member of the group agreed to pay a $15,000 fine. The city of Palos Verdes Estates was forced to issue a proclamation that the beach was open to everyone. Yet the intimidation continued, and local police did little to enforce the proclamation.
Tyson Shower–an attorney from Hanson Bridgett, the law firm representing the plaintiffs–thinks this lawsuit has the potential to change things at Lunada Bay. By naming the City of Palos Verdes and its police department as defendants in the lawsuit, law enforcement will be tasked to "step up" and "do what they're supposed to do," says Shower.
After months of pro-bono work, Hanson Bridgett attorneys have built a multilayered case in which the plaintiffs ask that a judge label the Bay Boys as a gang.
"Under the law, this junction would keep individuals who have been involved in the harassment from congregating," says Shower.
Accounts of affluent middle-aged men throwing eggs, verbally harassing women — often from the self-made rock fort where they typically gather — hardly conjure up images of stereotypical gang members.
Several of the defendants do have rap sheets, though. Michael Rae Papayans was described by the New York Daily News as "a friend of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter" and is facing assault charges for two other incidents, one of which involved Papayans pummeling a Mets fan outside Dodger Stadium.
The lawsuit makes clear, as defined by the law, that a gang "is a group of three or more individuals with a common name or common symbol and whose members…engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and has as one of its primary activities the commission of enumerated 'predicate crimes,' including but not limited to assault, battery, vandalism, intimidation, harassment, extortion, and, upon information and belief, the sale and use of illegal controlled substances."
Professor Alu Orange, who studies gang charges at USC, told the L.A. Times that it's highly unusual for a group of private citizens — rather than a government entity — to seek a gang injunction," but that it would be refreshing to see it used in a constitutional way, as the Lunada Bay Boys "live in an area where the median income is $170,000 and they can vandalize, assault and batter people, and can do it all under the watchful eye of the police."
Meanwhile, The California Coastal Commission has joined the fight, sending a letter to the city of Palos Verdes Estates last month stating that the actions of the Lunada Bay Boys are subject to the commission's watchdog regulations and permitting processes.
"Precluding full public use of the coastline at Palos Verdes Estates, including the waters of Lunada Bay, whether through physical devices … or impediments, such as threatening behavior intended to discourage public use of the coastline represents a change of access to water, and, thus, constitutes development," the commission's letter says.
Coastal Commission officials have since met with the city of Palos Verdes Estates, telling the L.A. Times that they'll continue their push to remove the stone structure at the water’s edge allegedly constructed by the Lunada Bay Boys as a party spot and outpost for coordinating the harassment of outsiders.
None of the named defendants have commented publicly, but the grandmother of Michael Rae Papayans told The Daily Breeze that the Bay Boys are preparing countersuits against at least one of the plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, Shower and the attorneys at Hanson and Bridgett continue to build their case. "The media coverage has helped bring people out of the woodwork," says Shower. "I've received over 50 phone calls, personally, since Tuesday and everybody has the same story: 'We knew this intimidation was going on, we just didn't know how bad it was.'"
When SURFER asked if, in his legal opinion, the wave at Lunada Bay was really worth all the hassle, Shower laughed. "No comment," he said.