SAN DIEGO (CN) — A Northern California apartment owner was fined $1.45 million by the California Coastal Commission Thursday for blocking beach access and allowing unpermitted construction on a Pacifica beach.
The owner of the Oceanaire Apartments, on a bluff overlooking the ocean in Pacifica, faced the hefty enforcement fine for failing to maintain and repair a public stairway leading to the beach, and an improperly constructed seawall that fell into disrepair. The owner also hired construction workers last November to do grading, trenching and place 2,000 tons of large boulders on the beach without permission from the Coastal Commission or city.
The nearly $1.5 million fine is one of the largest in the agency’s history. The money will be paid by property owner FPA/WC Lands End into the commission’s violation remediation account, which is used for public access and restoration projects.
California’s Coastal Act grants public access to all 840 miles of California coastline.
FPA failed to repair the public access trail after storms washed it away in December 2016, forcing the beach to close for over a year. Enforcement officers told the Coastal Commission Thursday they sent the property owner multiple letters informing it that it needed to comply with a Coastal Development Permit issued by the commission and requiring it to maintain public access to the beach. But the property owner failed to submit plans or communicate to the commission how it planned to mitigate the access problem until the commission filed a notice of intent to bring action last fall.
David Goldberg, attorney for FPA, told commissioners his client has started to comply with the cease and desist order, with temporary beach access expected to be restored in the next few weeks. He said his client did not fail to comply with the permit due to “bad intent,” but bad weather conditions, which washed away the public access trail.
Lisa Haage, chief of enforcement for the Coastal Commission, said enforcement cases can be a deterrent to other property owners who might take a lackadaisical approach to complying with terms of permits and the Coastal Act.
“The reason we think cases like this are important is that it sends a message people need to take their coastal permits seriously,” Haage said.
Commissioner Donne Brownsey asked Haage why there was a miscommunication between the property owner and commission staff when the property owner had been required to meet “a series of regulatory requirements over a period of years.”
“We share your confusion,” Haage said, adding that commission staff hopes to prevent “this kind of casual response” where a property owner ignores multiple requests to comply with a permit and faces a steep fine.
Enforcement officers for the Coastal Commission have handed down stiff fines to offenders the past couple of years, including a $500,000 fine an upscale restaurant was ordered to pay for blocking beach access.
Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla, the founder of Sun Microsystems, has fought opening beach access near property he owns in Half Moon Bay. Khosla maintains he owns Martin’s Beach and closed a nearby parking lot and put up a gate restricting beach access. He recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the years-long private property fight.