By Devin Fehely

CAPITOLA (KPIX 5) — There is a showdown brewing over a stretch of Santa Cruz County coastline that many have come to consider as their own private playground.

Aptly-named Privates Beach near Capitola is a popular surf spot and park, but for years a locked gate has barred the public from accessing it – restricting it to those who pay $100 a year for a key.

Now the California Coastal Commission says the Opal Cliffs Recreation District, which manages the park, must stop charging for access and has until Thursday to tear down the gate and open up the beach to everyone.

Residents and beachgoers who currently pay for access to the beach fear tearing down the gate will open the proverbial floodgates.

“The community that stewards the beach takes good care of it,” beachgoer John Bowling said. “For the coastal commission to strip that away from us just erodes the entire fabric of this community.”

“There was a lot of riffraff coming down there. I mean people sitting down there, leaving their trash down there, drinking down there, partying down there,” beachgoer Gary Keck said.

But the coastal commission said having to pay to access the beach violates the California Coastal Act, which requires the general public be afforded maximum access to the shoreline.

“It’s the gate. It’s the guard. It’s the fees,” said commission spokeswoman Linda Locklin. “All three make it very difficult for members of the general public to get in and access this public land.”

The original fence and gate was built in the 1940s. The current, imposing, nine-foot fence dates back to the 1990s.

Thursday’s deadline for the fence to come down will likely determine if Privates Beach remains so in name only.

“I see it as a denial of property rights by the government, by the coastal commission trying to force their will,” beachgoer Gary Ransone said.

The commission says it’s prepared to levy steep fines of more than $11,000 a day if the gate doesn’t come down.

But, the commission said it is more interested in resolving the issue than the money.

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