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.