The California Coastal Commission has sent an informal letter to the city and the Montage Laguna Beach, asking for the resort's security to stop confronting the public at Treasure Island Park adjacent to the resort.
The Coastal Commission has received several complaints over the past couple of months regarding the presence of private security in a public park, said Andrew Willis, an enforcement officer with the state agency.
Patrick Veesart, the commission's Southern California supervisor, said it has independently confirmed that security guards have been asking park visitors to refrain from taking pictures of people in the private residences near the hotel.
"My own staff have been out there, seen the guards and been confronted by the guards," he said Wednesday.
On July 16, City Manager John Pietig said in an email that the Montage is responsible for maintenance of the park and its security personnel are allowed in it.
However, Veesart contended that "maintenance" doesn't imply they can ask people to not do legal activities in a public park.
Residents reported signage that asked for no photos or videos. Since the commission's inquiry, the signs have been removed, the city said.
Security on the land would require a coastal development permit, Veesart said, which the Montage, located at Wesley Drive and Coast Highway, does not have.
"There's no reason [visitors] should feel surveilled while engaging in legal activities in a public park," he said.
Veesart added that if privacy were a concern for homeowners, they should have considered it when buying property that fronts a public park, where people are allowed to congregate and do legal activities.
Veesart said that the commission would like to resolve the issue informally and amicably, and he thinks it's likely that it won't escalate to any formal enforcement action.
"We do not comment on our safety procedures," said Montage General Manager Todd Orlich said in a statement.
Pietig said Wednesday that the city will review the letter and related documents. The city is working with the Montage and concerned residents to address the issues.
Veesart commented that the state agency was a citizen initiative and under the Coastal Act, it is the commission's responsibility to make sure that coastal resources are protected, which includes preserving public access.
"I just want my park back and those guys out of there," said Sean Schlueter, a local resident who frequents the park.