The California Coastal Commission (CCC) on Friday sent warning letters to the owners of Paradise Cove requesting that they stop charging visitors for beach and pier access at the popular Malibu destination, raising concerns among residents who fear an increase in visitors will negatively impact safety.
The fees for access, according to Paradise Cove’s website, run $40 to park and $20 to walk into the property, which is owned by Kissel Co., operating as Paradise Cove Land Co. Those prices usually rise during peak season.
Sending these warnings, which could result in heavy fines, fulfills a longtime goal of CCC Enforcement Officer Pat Veesart, who said lack of adequate beach access to Paradise Cove has been a thorn in his side for years.
“Over the years, I’ve had many complaints about Paradise Cove, and most of the complaints have either related to people feeling like they were prevented from walking in or being charged to walk in to the beach,” Veesart said. “It’s been on my radar screen, but I don’t feel like I’ve had a hammer. There’s not much I could do about it; it’s private property.”
That changed, however, when the CCC was granted permission to issue fines for blocking beach access in June of this year. After a “high profile” case of two surfers being blocked by sheriffs from surfing in the cove, a nonprofit called the Black Surfers Collective reached out to Veesart, stating that they too were not allowed to carry surfboards at Paradise Cove.
Veesart then had the proper authority and the proper motivation for sending the letters.
“Essentially, the public has the right to access the beach,” Veesart said, “and they have a right to access it without being charged to do it.”
Whatever the legality, residents of the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park say that limiting beach access is a necessary safety measure.
“We already feel overburdened with the number of people coming in, and that’s people who are willingly paying,” said Leslie Starus, former president of the Paradise Cove Homeowners Association. Starus has been living in Paradise Cove since 2000, and spent over 10 years as HOA president of the small community.
Speaking on behalf of the current HOA board, including current president Linda Reigel, Starus said there is a laundry list of issues that arise with increased visitor traffic.
Increased trash on the beach, lack of adequate bathrooms, security, traffic hazards and dangerous parking along Pacific Coast Highway are just some of the HOA’s concern.
“There are already gangs of surfers that are fighting with each other as they walk down the beaches,” Starus said, adding, “There’s theft that’s been occurring, we’ve never had that ever in years before.”
The Malibu Times reached out to Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station to confirm an increase of crime around Paradise Cove, but they could not provide data by press time Tuesday.
Parking on PCH near Paradise Cove has been a contentious local safety issue for years. In spring 2014, Caltrans and the City of Malibu placed 10 “no parking” signs along the roadway near its intersection with Paradise Cove Road, citing safety. Not long after, the CCC ordered the signs be removed.
“We’ve been working with Caltrans for quite a while trying to make the roadway where people can park safer,” said Councilmember Laura Rosenthal.
“One of the purported reasons that [Kissel Co.] had increased the fees was so that they could reduce the number of people going in,” Rosenthal stated.
Kissel Co. President Steven Dahlberg did not respond to requests for comment.
“This is really between … the property owners and the Coastal Commission,” said Rosenthal, who added that “a lot of it is trying to make it safer for the residents and the visitors.”
Rosenthal said she personally supports public access to beaches, but not at the cost of safety.
When asked for a best-case scenario of how the disagreement would end, Rosenthal said she did not have one.
“I’m not sure which way it could go. This is going to be a battle between Paradise Cove and the Coastal Commission,” Rosenthal said.
According to Veesart, Dahlberg has 30 days from the issuance of the letters to bring Paradise Cove into compliance, or he could face fees ranging from $700 to $11,500 per day.