California hotel fined $1.6 million for blocking beach access

A posh Northern California hotel has been ordered to pay $1.6 million in penalties for failing to provide public access to its nearby beaches.

All beaches in California are open to the public, with rare exceptions, but the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Half Moon Bay did not specify this and sometimes blocked easy access, the California Coastal Commission said Thursday. Hotel rooms can cost $1,000 a night.

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The commission also said the hotel about 30 miles south of San Francisco failed to post signs informing the public that the beaches are free and open to all.

Although the hotel is required to have a free public car park of 15 spaces and to keep another 25 public spaces in its garage, the valets would park the cars of hotel guests and golfers in public areas or refuse the public access to these spaces, the commission said.

Shelly Auyeung, communications manager at the Ritz-Carlton in Half-Moon Bay, declined to comment.

“Maybe creating the illusion of a private beach helps justify the exorbitant cost of rooms,” said Mandy Sackett, director of state policy for the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group.

The $1.6 million fine, which was reached as part of a settlement with the hotel, is the second largest in the history of the coast commission. Of the penalty, $1 million will go to a commission fund that provides signs, paths, stairs and other amenities to help the public use the state’s beaches. The remaining $600,000 will go to the Peninsula Open Space Trust, a Palo Alto land conservation group, to help purchase property north of the hotel to expand public beach access.

The company also agreed to expand the beach parking lot to 22 spaces, install signage that the beaches are public, better train staff, and post the information on the hotel’s website.

Under the terms, the hotel will also face penalties of $25,000 per violation per day for any future violations.

The hotel has already been fined for breaking coastal law. The Coast Commission first fined the hotel $50,000 in 2004. After the hotel failed to deliver on promised changes, it paid additional penalties in 2007 and 2011.

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