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Paradise Cove in trouble again for charging for beach access

Children play in the surf at Paradise Cove in Malibu. Public access to the beach was blocked for the second time in two years, even though the surf is a public area under California's Constitution.
Children play in the surf at Paradise Cove in Malibu. Public access to the beach was blocked for the second time in two years, even though the surf is a public area under California’s Constitution.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

For some Malibu surfers, hitting the waves means first crossing the parking lot at privately operated Paradise Cove, a restaurant that faces the public beach and pier.

But, according to some, that can be a problem.

In June, the California Coastal Commission once again began investigating complaints from beachgoers that the operator of Paradise Cove has been charging a $20 daily beach membership fee to access the shore.

Large red signs leading up to the beach detailed the access fee, marketed as a “daily beach club membership,” according to documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

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People should know they have the right to walk down to the beach and enjoy the coast.

Andrew Willis, Coastal Commission enforcement supervisor

The case highlights the difficulty of managing access along the coast, said Andrew Willis, a Coastal Commission enforcement supervisor.

Public trails to the beach have been blocked throughout Southern California, he said, in coastal communities such as Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and San Clemente.

“It’s just part of the statewide issue of restrictions on coastal access,” Willis said. “People think of gates and fences, but there are other ways to chip away at access – fake garages, access fees, ‘no parking’ signs.”

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In a June 16 letter to Kissel Co., which operates as Paradise Cove Land Co., the Coastal Commission threatened to impose hefty fines of up to $11,250 per day for blocking public access.

The company has since complied with the commission’s request.

“We’ve had a number of these cases and this has been a really effective tool,” Willis said of the fine.

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A couple who parked their car on Pacific Coast Highway walk toward Paradise Cove hoping to avoid paying the $35 daily parking fee in Malibu.
A couple who parked their car on Pacific Coast Highway walk toward Paradise Cove hoping to avoid paying the $35 daily parking fee in Malibu.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

The recent run-in is not the first time the commission has had problems with Paradise Cove.

During a visit to the site in 2014, commission staff members located several signs banning surfing and surfboards, and found that the pier, located on public tidelands, was closed off behind a locked gate.

The commission sent a letter to the company, contending that it was violating the state Coastal Act and the terms of its state lease for the Paradise Cove pier. And as they did with the June violation, the commission threatened hefty daily fines.

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A sign is posted on the Paradise Cove Pier that instructs visitors on what areas of their property is open to the public at Paradise Cove.
A sign is posted on the Paradise Cove Pier that instructs visitors on what areas of their property is open to the public at Paradise Cove.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

The owner agreed to stop charging a walk-in fee, remove all signs banning surfing and unlock a gate to the beach’s pier shortly after.

Under the agreement, the company was allowed to continue charging a parking fee.

At the time, surfers who tried to carry their boards across the sand were regularly turned away even though the surf break is in public waters.

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Kissel holds a 10-year lease on the pier that expires in 2019. Steven F. Dahlberg, president of Paradise Cove Land Co., did not respond to a request for comment.

Paradise Cove’s website has since been updated and no longer mentions any membership fees. Instead, the company notes that the public is welcome to walk from the Pacific Coast Highway to the pier free of charge.

“People should know they have the right to walk down to the beach and enjoy the coast,” Willis said.

sarah.parvini@latimes.com

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For more local and breaking news follow me on Twitter: @sarahparvini

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