By CHRISTOPHER WEBER
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A developer is being accused of a “bait-and-switch” building scheme and is likely be hit Wednesday with a record $25 million in fines and fees for putting up a high-priced hotel on the Southern California coast after initially obtaining a permit for a property with moderately priced rooms.
Sunshine Enterprises violated a state law that enshrines public access to beach areas, according to the California Coastal Commission. The agency staff is recommending the approval of a $15.5 million penalty — the largest in its 40-year history, said the commission supervisor Andrew Willis. The commissioners could also recommend an additional $9.5 million in mitigation fees to make up the loss in low-cost lodging, he said.
“We hope this is a painful price to pay. We want this to be a deterrent,” Willis said Tuesday.
Sunshine Enterprises was permitted to rebuild and expand two motels — the Pacific Sands and a Travelodge — which were among a dwindling number of affordable accommodations along a tourist-heavy strip of pricey hotels near the Santa Monica Pier. The permit application for the project promised the new hotel would not offer a bar, restaurant, spa or other “luxury” accommodations and that rooms would cost about $165 a night.
But the company let that permit expire and instead built the boutique Shore Hotel, where rooms with a “bed and breakfast package” start at around $300 and ones featuring Pacific Ocean views can run up to $800, documents show.
Under the landmark Coastal Act, the commission protects resources including marine habitat, fisheries, shoreline public access and relatively inexpensive visitor accommodations.
Making sure everyone can visit beaches and also afford to spend the night is part of the commission’s primary mission, said Sean Hecht, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“We don’t want beaches to become only a place for the wealthy. We have many residents who don’t live within driving distance to the coast and they should be able to enjoy it and spend some time,” Hecht said.
Sunshine Enterprises will pay any ordered penalties and work with the commission to reach “full resolution of this matter,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.
“Shore Hotel recognizes the hotel was opened without the Coastal Commission’s permit and regrets this violation took place and the length of time it has taken to rectify this violation of the Coastal Act,” the company said.