The California Coastal Commission has approved a $1.6 million fine against the operators of a posh Northern California hotel for failing to provide public access to its nearby beaches.
Commissioners approved the penalty against the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Thursday at a meeting in San Diego. The fine was part of a settlement with the commission, which alleged that the hotel did not display signs informing the public about the beach access. It also prevented the public from easily accessing nearby public parking spaces.
The 261-room luxury oceanfront hotel, golf course and spa was built in 2001.
The penalty is the second-largest in the commission’s history. It will help increase access to state beaches and purchase land north of the hotel to expand beach access.
In California, all beaches are open to the public, with rare exceptions, but the hotel did not make that clear and at times prevented easy access, the commission said. It also alleges the hotel failed to display signs informing the beaches are free and open to anyone.
Although the hotel is required to have a free public parking lot with 15 spaces and keep another 25 spaces public in its garage, hotel valets would park cars of hotel guests and golfers in public spaces or refuse public access to those spaces, the commission said.
Shelly Auyeung, communications manager at the Ritz-Carlton in Half-Moon Bay, declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday.
“Perhaps creating the illusion of a private beach helps justify the exorbitant cost of the rooms,” said Mandy Sackett, state policy director for the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group.
Rooms at the hotel can cost $1,000 per night.
The $1.6 million penalty, part of a proposed settlement with the commission, would be the second-largest in the history of the coastal commission. Of the penalty, $1 million would go to a commission fund that provides signs, trails, stairs and other amenities to help the public use state beaches. The remaining $600,000 would go to the Peninsula Open Space Trust, a Palo Alto land conservation group, to help purchase a 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 stating the beaches are public, better train staff and post the information on the hotel’s website.
The hotel has previously been fined for violating coastal law. The coastal 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.
Commissioners were expected to vote on the settlement later Thursday.