William Kellogg defends his property in front of La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club

Stand by your sand

William C. Kellogg doesn’t tolerate uninvited guests at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. As managing trustee of the Kellogg family estate, Kellogg oversees the 20-acre, oceanfront resort with ninety-seven rooms, a par-three golf course, swimming pool, and tennis courts. Those amenities are secured from uninvited guests by a diligent staff, but the pride of Kellogg’s fiefdom (a membership costs a family $900 per year) — a seventy-five-foot-wide by 1000-foot-long beach that fronts the Beach and Tennis Club — is tougher to keep under surveillance.

The beach extends from the corner of the club’s Marine Room restaurant north to a Kellogg-built seawall near the public La Jolla Shores beach. While any beachgoer can swim in the ocean directly in front of the private beach, frolic in the wet sand, or walk across the private beach en route to the public beach on either side, only registered guests and those who hold one of the Beach and Tennis Club’s 1000 memberships can relax under the shaded parasols on the manicured white sand extending from the club’s concrete esplanade west to the water’s high-tide line.

Kellogg says his family has had little trouble safeguarding its property rights since the Beach and Tennis Club was opened in 1926. Lately, though, there have been more challenges to his privacy. The twelve teen-age attendants who take turns watching for intruders now find a handful of non-guests each summer who refuse to move off the private sands when asked. The attendant then dispatches his supervisor, Mac Brewer, who explains the law that extends the private property line to the “mean high-tide line” and firmly states that he will have the trespasser arrested. The uninvited guests usually leave, but some fight: last year Brewer was battered and kicked in the chest by one visitor. Kellogg also recounts the adventures of a “pseudo-University of San Diego professor, who parks himself on the sand and refuses to move.” The “professor” always leaves before the police arrive, says Kellogg, “but Lord, what a ruckus he makes.”

Kellogg is the grandson of S.W. Kellogg, whose fortune was made through the Scripps-Howard family newspaper chain and who built the club and once owned much of the land north along La Jolla Shores. William Kellogg says some of the defiant trespassers “deliberately adopt a deceptive attitude” and claim they are not aware of the private beach despite the stenciled signs on either end of the property. (He once tried to post larger signs and was challenged by the coastal commission, which tried unsuccessfully to prosecute him for “erecting a structure on beach property.”) Others, he says, try to pull rank. “We had one trespasser who said ‘I’m a member of the [La Jolla] Town Council… You can’t kick me off.’” Kellogg, president of the town council, was unimpressed.

But the most direct challenge to his authority came last month when a La Jolla woman walked on to the beach, lay down to sunbathe, and refused what Kellogg says were four attempts to convince her to leave. She was then escorted to the club’s offices and placed under citizen’s arrest for trespassing. Police were called, and several officers and a detective promptly arrived and issued her a trespassing citation. The woman says she was “absolutely not on the private beach” and that she “very politely pointed out that they were incorrect to ask me to leave.”

While the police didn’t attempt to adjudicate the dispute, chief deputy city attorney Ted Bromfield last week decided that no charges would be filed in the case. Bromfield says his office could only charge the woman with “criminal trespassing” and that a review of the beach and Kellogg’s “private property” signs by a city attorney’s investigator determined that it would be “virtually impossible to prove that she intentionally stayed on the private area and had a criminal intent to do so.” Bromfield says more obvious signs pointing out the private beach “would make a significant difference” in how his office would handle such complaints from Kellogg.

Kellogg disagrees with Bromfield’s decision not to prosecute, and doubts that any investigator ever visited the beach, “because it’s quite clear to anyone that these signs show just what part is private.” He won’t pursue the case, though, saying. “We’re not interested in punishing people, just in preserving our use of the private property.” He argues that should his diligence wane, the continued breaching of the private property could establish a precedent that may lead to the beach being declared a public area.

Kellogg is comforted by the fact that the police will continue to arrive, as they have in the past, when called to cite a trespasser. Several La Jollans, including the arrested woman, argue that the swift police response to the July 9 beach incident was prompted by the outcry Kellogg unleashed when police refused to honor a citizen’s arrest made by a club employee who was hit by a car in the club parking lot. Outraged by the event, Kellogg demanded and got an investigation by Councilman Bill Mitchell’s office. He also talked with “community members,” the police department’s Crime Prevention Task Force, and wrote a “Commentary” column in the July 22 La Jolla Light chastising the police and urging “vigilance and persistence to make the system work.”

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