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Paradise Cove in Malibu restores public access; $20 walk-in fee to disappear

The owner of Paradise Cove in Malibu has agreed to remove signs banning surfing, open a locked gate and stop charging a $20 walk-in fee for beach access, but will continue to impose a $40 parking fee, the California Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission announced today.

The resolution resolves a long-running dispute with Kissel Co., which operates as Paradise Cove Land Co.

“This is a triumph for public access, and proof that the threat of fines is a very effective enforcement tool,” said Coastal Commission Chairman Steve Kinsey. “We’ve never seen a violation of this magnitude resolved so quickly. Christmas came early for the coast this year.”

The beach at Paradise Cove is accessible from Pacific Coast Highway by a private road and parking lot owned by the company, which operates a restaurant and a mobile home park at the site.

The private property extends to the ambulatory mean high tide line, but the area below the mean high tide line is owned by and accessible to the public. The lease requires free public access to the pier and adjacent public lands, including to the ocean.

Steven Dahlberg, acting on behalf of Paradise Cove Land Co., had been charging access fees and banning the public from bringing surfboards on the public beach.

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.

Both commissions wrote to Dahlberg in November, stating the company was in violation of the terms of the state lease for the pier and the Coastal Act, which protects public access to state waters and tidelands.

The Coastal Commission’s letter referenced its authority to issue fines of up to $11,250 per day for such violations if not resolved within 30 days.

Dahlberg responded before the deadline, avoiding the potential for fines, officials said.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who authored bills granting penalty authority to the two commissions, said the new laws are being used precisely as planned.

“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. “This shows putting this tool in the commission’s toolbox was the right way to go.”

Although the practice of restricting surfing had been ongoing for decades, the Coastal Commission had only received formal complaints over the last year from the public.

An investigation found several illegal signs banning surfing and surfboards, and discovered that the pier, located on public tidelands, was closed off behind a locked gate.

Under California law, structures, such as private piers, located on state tide and submerged lands require a lease from the Lands Commission. As part of the investigation, Coastal Commission staff confirmed that that the private pier was subject to a state lease.

Lands Commission staff determined that Dahlberg was in violation of the company’s lease, which specifically requires the property owner to provide free public access from Pacific Coast Highway, across the beach to the pier and adjacent public land and water.

Both agencies subsequently contacted the property owner by letter, advising that the violations must be resolved to comply with the lease and state law. In response, Dahlberg has agreed to abstain from charging the walk- in fee, remove the “no-surfboards” signs, open the pier, and revise the signage to reflect the free pedestrian access.

“This property owner has enjoyed the benefits of their private pier on public property for many years,” said State Lands Commission Executive Officer Jennifer Lucchesi. “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.”

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