(CN) – The California Coastal Commission fined one of the swankiest hotels on the Central Coast $1.6 million for a continued pattern of preventing access to a nearby public beach.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay, where visitors can pay up to $1,000 per night, agreed to pay the large fine after admitting it discouraged beachgoers from accessing parking spots the hotel had formerly agreed to make available in exchange for the right to build.
The hotel has been a source of controversy since it was constructed in 2001, as local San Mateo County residents battled to have the development stopped, expressing concerns the Ritz-Carlton would block access to two beaches just south of Half Moon Bay.
In order to comply with the Coastal Act’s public access provisions, the Ritz-Carlton agreed to make 25 parking spaces in its garage available every day throughout the year from sunup to sundown.
The commission said the hotel not only failed to do that, but repeatedly engaged in a pattern of parking hotel guests and golfers in the public spots, while using various intimidation tactics to shoo away members of the public.
The hotel paid fines initially in 2004, 2007 and 2011 for the violations but problems persisted, causing the commission to adopt a more severe approach while seeking steeper fines.
“When I see these legacy violations, there is outrage,” said Commissioner Donnie Brownsey.
The commission voted unanimously to levy the fine and require the Ritz-Carlton to broadcast the accessibility of the two nearby beaches. They will also perform an audit of their use of plastic and attempt to reduce its use on the property.
Should the hotel be caught violating coastal act provisions again, they could be charged $25,000 per day per violation, a number that was raised by $20,000 by angry commissioners during deliberations.
Mandy Sackett, state policy director for the Surfrider Foundation, accused the hotel of scaring off members of the public to trick their customers into thinking the beaches were private.
“Perhaps creating the illusion of a private beach helps justify the exorbitant cost of the rooms,” Sackett said.
$1 million of the fine will go towards a coastal commission fund set aside for signs, trails, stairs and other amenities designed to increase access. The remaining $600,000 will be allocated to the Peninsula Open Space Trust to purchase a property north of the hotel with the intent to expand beach access.
The fine is the second largest against a business in the commission’s history, following the passage of a law in 2014 that gave the quasi-judicial agency more teeth by allowing it to fine property owners up to about $11,000 per day or $4.1 million per year for public access violations.
Southern California developer Sunshine Enterprises was hit with a $15.5 million fine last month and last year the owners of an apartment complex in Pacifica, just north of Half Moon Bay, agreed to pay $1.45 million in fines.