Trouble in Paradise

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Paradise Cove Sign

The California Coastal Commission on June 7 opened a new investigation into allegations of Paradise Cove charging visitors beach access fees, after beachgoers complained about being charged a “$20 daily beach membership fee” to reach the beach. 

This is not the first time these allegations have been leveled against the land management company.

The Kissel Co., which operates as Paradise Cove Land Co. (PCLC), stopped charging walk-in fees to the public and opened gates to the pier in late 2015 after being found in violation of the California Coastal Act. At the time, the coastal commission threatened to impose heavy fines of up to $11,250 per day for its blocking public access to the beach and pier.

“Today, there is a slightly different name for the fee being charged by Paradise Cove, which they state is for using their facilities,” said Andrew Willis, a coastal commission enforcement supervisor. “We have seen evidence that their employees have directed people who refused to pay to go left of the pier, citing that Paradise Cove was private property — but this is just not accurate.”

Steven Dahlberg, a principal of Paradise Cove Land Co., said the private beach membership fee is how the company makes a distinction to the public that they are allowed to charge for their private facilities such as parking, restaurants, showers and restrooms. 

“I can’t say much, because an investigation is going on, but we are working with the coastal commission to resolve these issues,” Dahlberg said.

The coastal commission sent letters to the PCLC in 2014 and 2015 directing the company to, respectively, stop charging a beach walk-in fee and stop discouraging access by demanding to search bags for alcohol, according to Willis.

The State Lands Commission is also looking into the matter. 

“We are currently awaiting a letter from our lessee to help us understand what their daily beach membership fee would look like and whether there is sufficient clarity for the public that they could access the beach without paying,” said Sheri Pemberton, chief of external affairs and legislative liaison of the State Lands Commission. 

With accusations of trespassing, bright orange barricades, private security guards, cones, flags and sometimes the local sheriff’s department at the entrance, it may be a bit intimidating for the public to refuse to pay the fees when they approach the entrance. To cause further fears, there is no public easement recorded for access through Paradise Cove, but PCLC’s lease states the company must provide public access along the road to the shore.

The coastal commission said they are partnering with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to make sure public access is preserved. 

“You can go down by the pier without paying,” said Willis. “There has been some tension in the past between law enforcement and the public, but for the past few years we have had a good relationship with the sheriff’s department.”

Lt. Jim Royal from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station said they respond to all normal calls, including traffic calls, in the Paradise Cove area, but have no assigned deputies to work specifically at Paradise Cove. 

“We are working closely with the [coastal commission] to ensure we are in compliance with all applicable laws regarding the public’s right to access all the area beaches,” said Lt. Royal. 

Paradise Cove’s website has since been updated and does not mention any type of daily membership fees. In addition, there is a mention on their website that the public can access the beach free of charge. There are also two signs posted on a fence as you enter Paradise Cove Road, which is a private street leading to the beach restaurant.