Montecito residents and Rosewood Miramar Beach staff are trying to move past an awkward confrontation Thursday afternoon when hotel managers kicked a group of families off an area of beach in front of the newly opened resort. The managers, who identified themselves as corporate representatives of the Miramar’s operator, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, told the group that the section of the beach where they were sitting was private property, the kids were being noisy and a nuisance, and they all needed to leave.
The parents protested that they’d set up their chairs and blankets well below the high tide line, meaning they were on public property. They’d also taken care to position themselves west of the black ropes the Miramar sets up to cordon off its portion of beach, but close enough to the hotel to buy nachos and other snacks from the outdoor restaurant. The managers offered to discuss the matter in private, but the frustrated beachgoers opted to leave instead. No Miramar guests were using the private beach area at the time.
The California Coastal Commission is now investigating the incident. “We take public access issues extremely seriously,” said spokesperson Noaki Schwartz.
Montecito resident and well-known community leader Abe Powell was among the parents. He was so gobsmacked by the encounter that he circulated an open letter to the Miramar among local news outlets. “When you reopened, we were happy to hear the community-friendly message you expressed,” he wrote. “We showed considerable flexibility in allowing the size and scale of your operation on our public beach. The one thing we all have been very clear about from the start is that the beach belongs to the community.” Read the full letter here.
In an interview Friday afternoon, Powell said he was most disturbed that the incident played out in front of children, who’d just graduated 6th grade from Montecito Union School and wanted to ring in the summer with an ocean swim. “They were made to feel like they didn’t belong on their own beach,” said Powell. “It was wrong.”
But after meeting with Miramar management to discuss the particulars of public versus private access, Powell said he’s feeling a bit better. “They understand our concerns and expressed remorse about the misunderstanding at the beach yesterday,” he said in a Facebook post. “They assured me that kids and families are 100 percent welcome on the public beach and in the hotel restaurant ― now and always.” Still, Powell said in the interview, it’s important to remember: “We’re sharing our beach with them, not the other way around.”
County Supervisor Das Williams, whose First District includes the Miramar, weighed in. “No one should be getting kicked off the beach,” he said. But in general, he went on, “People also need to respect that there is private property above the mean high tide line.” Specific to what happened Thursday, Williams said, “I’ve known Abe for 20 years and trust him implicitly that [the families were] on the public side of the beach. In my experience, the Miramar staff are also good players and want to have a relationship with the community.”
Williams said he’s glad Powell and the Miramar sat down and is hopeful for a resolution that “reiterates the Miramar’s ability to serve food and drink on their portion of the beach” and “protects the people’s right to the public side of the beach.”
The Miramar issued its own public letter Friday afternoon suggesting the families may have encroached onto its private stretch of sand. Managing Director Seán Carney said vaguely that the group had “expressed concern over the stanchioned area” and that his staff was “simply trying to maintain compliance with our government approvals.” Carney said the resort’s liquor license requires that it “clearly define the area where food and beverage is served with rope and stanchions.” He stopped short of issuing an apology to the families, saying only he was “sorry that the group was upset.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to Montecito Union School as Montecito Union High School.