Zachary Christian alerted NBC4 to what he thought was a blatant attempt to make money off someone's ignorance of California law.
"Basically, they're extorting people just to go down to the beach," he said.
We met Christian and also met Lilly, a tourist from Australia, when we went to investigate the alleged beach access fee at Paradise Cove in Malibu.
"I came from paradise to a pretend paradise and I had to pay to go and see it," Lily said. "We weren't allowed in unless we paid a $20 membership fee, so we turned around and walked back."
We found locals just as upset, so we went to see for ourselves.
"We're charging for a daily beach club membership," said an attendant at Paradise Cove. "Just to have access to the restrooms, the bathrooms, the restaurant."
When we said we didn't need access and just wanted to enjoy the beach, she responded: "Go straight and to the left of the pier, because the rest is private property."
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Under California law, no beach is private. We wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt to explain. She said, "the dry sand I guess technically is private property."
Here's what we found out: Paradise Cove is private property but the beach is not. The owners have a right to charge to use the restaurant, parking lots and bathrooms, but beach access is free by state law. We took the complaints to the California Coastal Commission.
"We've started our investigation so we can't speak too freely about what's going on now," said Andrew Willis, a Coastal Commission enforcement supervisor.
Willis investigated Paradise Cove in 2014 — the last time they were threatened with $11,000-a-day fines for gating off the pier and charging people for walking onto the beach. He's part of the new investigation into similar allegations.
"We have the full force of the Coastal Act and the remedies and enforcement provisions of the Coastal Act at our disposal," he said.
Paradise Cove is owned by Kissel Company, Inc. On their website, there's no mention of walk-in fees, but when we tried the same site on a mobile device, they listed the $20 fee under the tab "beach info." After our attempts for comment Thursday, the mobile site changed Friday to mirror the desktop website. And our calls for comment from the Kissel Company have not been returned.
For now, the Coastal Commission says people need to know they have a right to access the beach free of charge.
The Coastal Commission says even if the Cove makes claim that people are misunderstanding their daily beach membership fee, it could be illegal simply because it's misleading. As for staying only to the south of the pier, if you're not a guest at the Cove - that's also not true. You have access up and down the coast - but near the restaurant, best to stay south of the high tide line.