Clash Over Prying Eyes in a Public Park

Sean Schuelter meets up with Laguna’s beach patrol in Treasure Island Park. Photo by Danielle Robbins

The California Coastal Commission is investigating whether the recent arrival of private security guards and posting of signs discouraging photos in Laguna Beach’s Treasure Island Park is a violation of the state Coastal Act.

“These make the park appear to be private,” said Patrick Veesart, an enforcement supervisor, who noted that due to similar clashes over public and private rights on coastal property, commission policy prohibits hired guards from intimidating passersby on public property.

This week, city officials said visits by the police’s beach patrol will be stepped up at Main Beach and Treasure Island Beach, the city’s most popular visitor destinations, as well as several other locations, due to reports of illegal activity.

Police Chief Paul Workman and City Manager John Pietig, in an interview Tuesday, said the temporary police personnel, non-sworn officers who have enforcement authority over municipal violations, will also increase weekend visits downtown at the bus depot and retail complex Peppertree Lane as well as the southern end of Thousand Steps Beach known as Paradise Cove.

The decision to step up city patrols comes after city officials and the Coastal Commission received complaints from several residents beginning July 5 about what they view as encroachment in Treasure Island Park due to the presence of security guards at the perimeter of a private residence and signage discouraging photos, both on public park grounds.

Asked what specifically provoked the stepped up enforcement, Pietig cited the arrest last week of a man masturbating in a public restroom at Main Beach, fresh proliferation of graffiti at Thousand Steps and trespassing, vandalism and illegal bonfires at Treasure Island, the beach surrounding the city’s largest luxury property, the Montage resort.

Pietig said hotel security forces had conveyed the concerns informally. He was unable to provide specifics of any formal reports of illegal activity or of escalating calls for service about Treasure Island.

“Teenagers and bonfires; we hear the same complaints up and down the coast,” said Veesart. “It’s not an issue to be dealt with by private security on public property.”

Longtime resident Sean Schlueter thinks the extra police patrols are intended to discourage use of security guards within the public park that has made local residents uncomfortable, he among them.

Schlueter, who daily walks his two dachshunds along the park walkways, expressed outrage at being directed “to not take photos or to look down or look away,” by private security guards stationed in the park. “Whoever these people have been hired by, they are trying to infringe on public access and public spaces,” said the 63-year-old resident. “They appear to be patrolling the Treasure Island public park on a 24/7 basis, hovering and surveilling; it’s uncomfortable to have these guys stalking us.”

Another neighbor, Ted Miller, who also lives in nearby Laguna Terrace mobile home park, agreed, “there’s a different feel in the park,” due to the guards’ presence.

“I’m more annoyed than concerned that someone attempted to control ordinary folks out for a walk,” said Kay Won, another local resident who frequents the park. “Is there a law against taking a picture of Hollywood movie stars’ homes? Don’t think so. I wouldn’t like unauthorized photos taken of my home either, but there is no law against it.  He’s chosen a very public place for his backyard.”

The northern end of the 250-room resort that opened in 2003 was developed with a cluster of condominiums and high-priced private homes, some of which border the 7.5 acres of public park along public Shreve Drive. One condition of the development permit approved in 2000 prohibits guards on pedestrian access ways and streets, said Veesart, who offered no details about the direction of his inquiry. “It’s on our radar,” he said.

Montage General Manager Todd Orlich declined to comment on hotel security, said hotel spokeswoman Lauren Crowley.

City officials denied that the extra deployment of patrols comes in response to complaints raised by residents. “They are not there to deal with private security, but illegal activity,” said Pietig, who pointed out security guards have no authority to prohibit picture taking on public property.

Neither do hotel personnel, said City Attorney Phil Kohn, adding that hotel officials have come to an “understanding of protocol” with city officials.

Hotel security personnel, protective of their guest’s experience, pushed beyond proper protocol earlier. Kohn said council members have also reported witnessing hotel employees intercede with park visitors, forbidding them to take pictures that included hotel bungalows in the background.

Last week, hotel officials removed the offending signage from the park at the behest of the Coastal Commission, Pietig confirmed. But the signs reappeared near a public drop-off point this week, Veesart pointed out.

And while Schlueter says one guard appears to have retreated behind private property lines, other guards in the park still scrutinize passersby.

“We want these guys gone from our public park,” he said.

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  1. Mary Dolphin

    Occupy Treasure Island Park! The privatizers are at it everywhere (Laguna
    Beach Independent 7/20) and it’s time to push back. They, the upper 2 -3 % of
    the wealth holders that control about 60% of the nations wealth, are working on
    two fronts: get rid of public services and get rid of public property.
    > A property owner at the Montage compound stations a security guard adjacent to
    park property to tell the riff raff, that would be you and me, that it’s only a
    matter of time until there are no public parks, no public spaces, no public
    libraries, no public postal service, no public schools, no public service
    agencies- nothing. They’ll own everything! They will own it all and control it
    all. We will be allowed to go to work for them (92% of Americans who are
    working are employees- making the real money for someone else. Don’t believe it?
    Find a graph showing how huge the wealth gap between the richest and the rest of
    us has grown in the past 30 years! ) and shop in their malls and pay for
    entertainment and leisure activities that they provide; you see, in their eyes
    that’s why we are here: do the work that makes them the money and go spend our
    wages on goods and entertainment that puts even more money in their pockets. So
    get down there! Let these people who think that their money entitles them to
    intimidate the public with private security guards know that this is our park
    and we aren’t going anywhere! And while you’re at it, call city hall and tell them to
    bring back the picnic benches to Treasure Island Park!

  2. Mary Dolphin

    P.S. At the risk of being terribly misunderstood, I’ll say it anyway: We are all Mexicans now!
    Okay for those who don’t get it. For years we have viewed Mexican laborers as existing to take
    care of our children, work in our restaurants, clean our offices and do it cheap! We expected them
    to remain fairly invisible and be more or less docile. That, my friends, is where we are all headed- unless
    you’re one of the top 2 -3% wealth holders in the country.

  3. lbdad

    Mary, i think you might enjoy the uptopian paradises of Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea better….. And as far as viewing mexicans as just cheap labor fodder,,,,speak for yourself, I, and many people like me are not as narrow-minded as you, Mexicans are a diverse, dynamic, and energetic people, like most cultural sub-groups, but i guess that’s hard for you to see through the haze of your little, cushy bubble here in safe, sunny Laguna.

  4. Mary Dolphin

    Oh LB Dad you’re just as grouchy as ever! You need a vacation! By the way, do you and I live in different parts of Laguna?
    I live in the bubble part and you live in the gritty real world part? Duh! Mexicans are people!! And no, I don’t view this group of people as cheap labor fodder. But if you think they, as a subgroup, have been treated well, say like Anglo upper crust Laguna elite, think again!
    This is not my take alone. I have several acquaintances here in Laguna that are from Mexico. I taught at the
    Day Labor site and I know what I am talking about. I think you’re just bummed because you keep thinking that one of those condos down at the Montage has your name on it and darned if it looks like that’s just not going to happen! I don’t get the feeling you’re wealthy from the way you speak so why do people like you keep defending the very politicians and political ideas that don’t have your best interests in mind at all?
    Maybe it’s actually YOU that would like to get out of here and go somewhere where people who work hard are paid fairly and get to go on vacation once in awhile and get to enjoy life instead of running incessantly on the hamster wheel to nowhere! I’m not looking outside this country. I was born during the golden age of the Middle Class in America. I knew several families where just the dad worked, worked at blue collar jobs and these families had good and decent lives. They were not totally enslaved by debt and mortgaged up the wazoo. People then could expect to retire with generous pensions and live comfortably. Your party. The party of Reagan said enough of that! Let’s get back to the good old days of the plutocracy. When the richest 2 or 3% were getting richer and everyone else was scraping along the bottom, Where one or two misfortunes could send a middle class family into a financial abyss from which they would never recover.
    And, it isn’t the poorest Latin American countries that are yet models of democracy and economic equality. Several Latin American countries though are moving in that direction: Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Columbia, Brazil. It’s just a matter of time.

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