Opal Cliffs Private Access Substantial Issue


March 1, 2018

The County-approved project that is the subject of this appeal is the result of a long and protracted case first initiated by Commission enforcement staff in 2006. While the permitting history between the Coastal Commission and the Opal Cliffs Recreation District is undeniably complicated, the fundamental question of whether or not a collective of property owners have the right to charge for access to a public beach is worth examining. The current operation run by OCRD requires those wishing to visit the beach to purchase a $100 gate key for yearly access or pay a $5 fee for a daily pass. The only access to the beach in question is blocked by a 9-foot fence, gate and “gate ambassador” responsible for enforcing the program’s terms. This construct raises significant and fundamental consistency issues with the Coastal Act and California’s coastal management program; in particular, the directive to maximize access for the broadest of the State’s economically and culturally diverse population to our public beach commons.

The Commission heard only the substantial issue portion of the appeal and the de novo hearing was postponed to a future date at the request of the applicant. Commissioners opted to hear the substantial issue presentation and unanimously found substantial issue.

Why You Should Care

The County-approved project appears to conflict with fundamental Coastal Act and LCP public access and recreation requirements, including those that require that public recreational access opportunities be maximized.

This fee-based beach access prohibition will fall disproportionately on the lower income and more disadvantaged among the beach-going public and on those who do not live near the Opal Cliffs area, and disproportionately benefits those who live in the immediate area and are more likely to be able to make more frequent use of the Park and beach.


Pro-Coast Vote

Anti-Coast Vote

Commissioner Erik Howell made a motion to find substantial issue and Commissioner Mary Luevano seconded the motion. Commissioner Mark Vargas emphasized the need for the Commission to be consistent, noting the Commission has insisted on removal of gates “for less.”

Commissioners unanimously found substantial issue.

Organizations Opposed

Surfrider Foundation

Decision Type

Substantial Issue

Staff Recommendation

Substantial Issue

Coastal Act Policy