The California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission have resolved a dispute with a Malibu beachfront property owner regarding public access to Paradise Cove.
One month after being contacted by both agencies, Steven Dahlberg, acting on behalf of the Paradise Cove Land Company, agreed to stop charging a $20 walk-in fee, removed signs on the property that banned surfing and opened a locked gate at the foot of the Paradise Cove pier. The company will continue charging a $40 parking fee for vehicles.
The commissions issued letters to Dahlberg in November, stating that the company was in violation of a lease agreement and the Coastal Act. The Coastal Commission said it had the authority to issue fines without court action if Dahlberg didn’t respond within 30 days.
“This is a triumph for public access, and proof that the threat of fines is a very effective enforcement tool,” said Coastal Commission Chair Steve Kinsey. “We’ve never seen a violation of this magnitude resolved so quickly. Christmas came early for the coast this year.”
Assembly speaker Toni Atkins wrote the legislation that granted penalty authority to the State Lands and Coastal commissions.
“I’m pleased that less than six months after the Legislature and the governor gave the California Coastal Commission real enforcement tools to uphold access laws, the Paradise Cove gate has been opened and misleading signs have come down,” Atkins said.
The beach at Paradise Cove is accessible from Pacific Coast Highway by a private road and parking lot owned by Paradise Cove Land Company, which operates a restaurant and a mobile home park at the site.
The private property extends to the mean high tide line, but the area beyond that is owned by and accessible to the public.
A lease by the state requires free public access to the Paradise Cove pier and adjacent public lands, including the ocean. Previously, only residents of the gated community and their guests were allowed to carry surfboards across the sand to the surf break, which are public waters. The owner had been charging access fees and banning the public from bringing surfboards on the public beach.
The Coastal Act protects public access to state waters and tidelands, and requires a permit for any new development along the coast, including signs.
Although the practice of restricting surfing had been going on for decades.
An investigation by Coastal staff found several nonpermitted signs banning surfing and surfboards, and discovered that the pier, which is on public tidelands, was closed behind a locked gate.
Under California law, structures such as private piers located on state tide and submerged lands require a lease from the State Lands Commission. As part of the investigation, Coastal Commission staff found that the Paradise Cove pier was subject to a lease.
The State Lands Commission staff determined that the property owner was in violation of its lease, which requires the property owner to provide free public access from Pacific Coast Highway across the beach to the pier and to adjacent public land and water.
Paradise Cove agreed to stop charging the walk-in fee, remove the “no-surfboards” signs, open the pier and revise signs to reflect the free pedestrian access.
Dahlberg did not respond to an interview request by The Acorn.
State Lands Commission executive officer Jennifer Lucchesi said she was pleased with the quick restoration of public access.
“This property owner has enjoyed the benefits of their private pier on public property for many years,” Lucchesi said. “In return, they are required by the terms of the lease to provide year-round public access. Commission staff will be monitoring compliance with the lease to ensure continued free public access, especially as the summer season approaches.”
Charles Lester, executive director of the Coastal Commission, attributes the quick resolution of the violation to both agencies’ new ability to issue fines, and hopes that it will be a continuing trend.
“The property owner is to be commended for his cooperation in resolving this matter,” Lester said. “It saves everyone time and money to resolve these situations voluntarily, and most importantly, it’s the quickest way to restore the public’s ability to enjoy the beach.”
—Acorn staff report