The Lunada Bay Boys are not your stereotypical LA gang. For one thing, they're in their 40s and 50s. They're white. They come from old money. They're also surfers, and according to the residents of their posh community, they've been assaulting outsiders with the tacit approval of the police for decades, keeping tight control over one of the most coveted surf spots in Southern California.
The Bay Boys have been protecting their precious surf break since at least the 60s, by way of intimidation, threats, and even beatings. They've have slashed tires, graffitied cars, and thrown rocks at people who tried to visit the beach. In 1995, a schoolteacher who tried to surf the break got his pelvis broken by Bay Boys. In 1996, Bay Boy member Peter McCullom, who was 34 at the time and living on an inheritance, had to settle out of court for $15,000 after an altercation.
The ultra-rich claiming public beach property as their own is not a new thing in Southern California. In Malibu, the homeowners around Malibu's "Billionaire's Beach" illegally painted curbs red, erected giant walls in beach pathways, and put up fake tow signs, all to discourage outsiders. (After years of fighting, the community has finally opened up access to the public.) It's a more passive-aggressive approach than the one taken in Lunada Bay, but the rationale is the same: The moneyed locals believe they deserve private access to beachfront land that legally belongs to the public.
Yes, the "Bay Boys" aren't exactly the Crips or MS-13 – and there's certainly something deeply silly about rich grown-ups pretending to be Anthony Kiedis in Point Break. But the violence they perpetuate is real. So why aren't they being treated like any of LA's other gangs?
In many beach communities, local authorities tend to see localism-minded groups like the Bay Boys as an unfortunate but inevitable element of surf culture. In Lunada Bay's case, the gang of local "trust fund babies" – as they were called by Surfer Magazine's editor Steve Hawk – has the money to settle if things get too hairy. The gang's members are thoroughly entrenched in the affluent community, and their authority is rarely challenged.
The Palos Verdes Estates Police Department has long been criticised for failing to clamp down on the violent locals, although some officers have acknowledged that the Bay Boys are an organised, oppressive force in the area. In May 2015 an unnamed Palos Verdes police officer told reporters from the Guardian that the Lunada Bay Boys group "literally is like a gang."
Being "literally like a gang" would make you think they are, in fact, literally a gang. But what to do about a gang that is literally a gang? If only there was some way to address the issue of people committing crimes who tend to congregate in a single area… Oh, wait! There is. It just isn't applied to gangs like the Bay Boys.
In California, the primary course of action taken to combat gangs is issuing injunctions. These injunctions are sort of like the gang equivalent of a restraining order – they make it a crime for the gang members to congregate in public areas or even associate with one another. Injunctions are controversial, but they have been noted for being effective: A 2011 injunction issued against the Puente 13 and Bassett Grande gangs in the San Gabriel Valley, for example, was credited with a 32-percent drop in gang-related violence and homicides.
A 2010 report from the ACLU noted that there are over 150 gang injunctions currently in effect in California, but that zero of those apply to white gangs despite "documented evidence of their existence." The Lunada Bay Boys fit into that category.
In an interview on KPCC public radio last month, Palos Verdes Estates Police Chief Jeff Kepley explained that while his department has been aware for years about the Bay Boys problem, they have not made a concerted effort to address the issue as systemic, considering they've only received "four complaints in four years," and have not arrested a member for three years.
Still, Kepley admitted that he is aware that it is a "huge problem" for outsiders who unknowingly show up to surf a public beach only to be pelted with rocks and come back to their car to find it vandalised. He called the whole situation "embarrassing."
Geoff Hagins, a local from nearby Torrance who's been surfing in the area since the early 60s, is all too familiar with the issues plaguing Lunada Bay: He was the person who was assaulted by Bay Boy Peter McCollum in the 90s.
"I first had an incident with those guys in '69, when I was a freshman in high school," Hagins told me. "I was friends with a guy from PV [Palos Verdes], and he took me surfing. I had no idea about localism. After we went surfing, they pelted us with rocks for half an hour."
Hagins said his experience with Lunada Bay came to a head in 1995, when members of the Bay Boys began hassling and threatening his 10-year-old nephew "just for wanting to catch some waves." He returned to the bay with a news crew in tow and was subsequently assaulted by Bay Boy McCollum, which resulted in the $15,000 settlement.
And Hagins believes the violence will only get worse, unless authorities step in. "They've hassled thousands of people over the years, slashing tires, scraping cars with keys, putting wax on windows, breaking off radio antennas," he said. "Throwing rocks at people. Threatening to kill people by throwing them off the cliffs."
"I think it's a bad omen for the future," Hagins added. "I think whether the Bay Boys throw someone off a cliff, or someone does it to them, there will be a tragedy that could have been avoided if the police had done their job earlier."
According to Kepley, there are two main problems with issuing an injunction against the Bay Boys. First, he claims the Bay Boys can't be identified as a singular group (although other reports claim there are only "six to ten" closely related individuals responsible for carrying out the enforcement of Lunada Bay localism). Second, although the Bay Boys throw rocks, yell threats, and assault individuals, Kepley said they're just not quite violent enough, since "there's not shooting and stabbings and things that you typically associate with street gangs."
While many of the California gangs with injunctions are certainly very violent, not all of them have been accused of robbing and killing people, or even of committing violent felonies at all. This kind of violence isn't requisite for an injunction—the only thing a judge needs is evidence that the people named on the injunction are a "public nuisance."
In 2012, the eight members of the MTA (Metro Transit Assassins) in LA received a modified gang injunction, although they had not engaged in any violent activity. They weren't even a gang, but a group of graffiti artists. But after putting up a giant mural on the banks of the LA River protesting the city's Metro Transit Authority, which had made huge cuts to the regional bus system used predominantly by poor minority communities, while funnelling money into a rail system for white-collar commuters, the activist taggers got the gang treatment, and were barred by the city from associating with each other.
In defining why injunctions exist, the LA City Attorney says that "criminal street gangs share one common trait: They lay claim to turf. The gangs take over neighbourhoods… threatening outsiders who dare encroach on the turf, and, most importantly, threatening and intimidating the law-abiding residents of the area with their presence."
If using violence to keep the public from using a public space defines a gang, the Lunada Boys appear to be, by definition, a gang. The beach they guard is public property and anyone should be able to surf there. Especially since, as Hagins lamented, "the Bay Boys aren't even very good surfers."
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