Key Facts: The Struggle for Public Access

at 415 PCH



  • At stake is our ability to use prime public property and the beach. The lawsuit attempts undermine the will of the community and the intention of elected officials. They appear to want to keep the Gold Coast a de facto private beach.


  • Denying public facilities keeps the public off the beach.  Private property interests have developed a range of methods to discourage public use of coastal resources in California, including eliminating, restricting or blocking public beach facilities such as parking spaces and toilets. Or in this case, a beach club.


  • This is the only Santa Monica-area beach dominated by residents and private club members. The Gold Coast beach has the lowest public usage in Santa Monica. Currently, nearly all the beach-goers are the local residents or private beach club members.


  • Neighbors have fought public access before – the bike path!  Less than twenty years ago the same property association tried to block the construction of the bike path on the exact same stretch of beach. They cited similar noise and safety and security concerns. Today the bike path is a popular community resource; it is hard to imagine the beach devoid of such a valued feature.


  • Why do neighbors find private beach clubs acceptable, but not a public club? There are two exclusive clubs within a half-mile of the proposed facility; many neighbors are members of these clubs. The Palisades Beach Property Owners Association is suing to prevent, among other things, food service at the public facility when the private facilities have full restaurants.


  • The private clubs are larger than the proposed club, yet do not generate complaints. They have none of the many operating restrictions already conceded by the city in negotiations with the plaintiffs. They regularly stage events much larger and later than those allowed for the public facility. Moreover, in the last five years the private beach clubs have only generated two noise-related complaints. Even nearby houses have been the subject of more complaints.  



Key Facts: Context and Analysis of the Lawsuit



The following are direct quotes from the legal advisor for Friends of 415 PCH, Phil Hess, a land-use specialist. 



  • The plaintiffs are taking a public interest law and using it to build a wall across the beach. They are most unlikely guardians of the public interest.


  • The suit is far more procedural than substantive. They are throwing up a whole cloud of technical issues, hoping that one of those will trip up the project.


  • This is a classic case of environmental laws which were designed to protect the public interest being hijacked by private parties for their own personal benefit.


  • The lawsuit stands the California Environmental Quality Act on its head. CEQA is intended to protect the public from undisclosed impacts of private development. Yet here you have private interests claiming the right to protect the public from a project that, in fact, enhances the public’s right to beach access.


  • CEQA is a disclosure statute only. It is complied with once all the potential impacts are disclosed. Once they have all the information, the elected officials and, ultimately, the public decide whether or not a project should commence.




Key Facts: The Proposed 415 Public Beach Club


  • The proposal has nearly unanimous local support and broad regional support.  Leaders from political, community, recreation, education, historic preservation and environmental groups are hailing the project as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


  • A beach club is not a new use for the site. The city’s intention to re-open the facility for public use has been clear for more than a decade. From the 1960s to 1990s, it was the private Sand and Sea Club. The public club calls for far less intensive use than the previous club.


  • Private funds to pay for world-class facility. The facility would be built using $28 million in funds provided by the Annenberg Foundation, which is expected to cover construction costs. Amenities at the facility would rival, and in many cases, surpass those at nearby private beach clubs.


  • The club would be the only such facility in the nation. There are no other destination beach clubs owned by, and open to, the general public. Features of the facility include:


    • A renovated swimming pool (with restored historic tiles)
    • A full restoration of the historic North House, open to public tours
    • Changing and locker rooms
    • A 72-person event room and meeting rooms for public use
    • A patio terrace and viewing and sun deck with lounge chairs
    • A kids play area on the sand as well as a water play area
    • A snack bar and picnic tables
    • Volleyball and paddle tennis courts




  • William Randolph Hearst built the original estate with the help of designer Julia Morgan, who had recently completed Hearst Castle. Construction was completed in 1929. The property became popularly known as the Marion Davies Estate, after the newspaper tycoon’s silent movie star mistress.


  • In an era when that stretch of Santa Monica coastline was dubbed the Gold Coast because of its wealthy residents and extravagant galas, Davies hosted some of Hollywood’s most lavish parties at the estate


  • The property changed hands several times. It has been a hotel and home to two different beach clubs before becoming state property. All of the buildings on the property were “red-tagged” as a result of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.


  • The pool and North House – which was originally a guest house – are the only two structures remaining from the Hearst / Davies era.  Both have historic tiles that will be restored as part of the proposed rehabilitation.