Party's over at delta's Lost Isle

LOST ISLE -- From wet T-shirt contests to provocative dancing, anyone who has visited the adult paradise known as Lost Isle comes back with memories that can last a lifetime.

But the party is over for now.

The thousands of people who flood the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for Memorial Day weekend will not be enjoying a game of beach volleyball fueled by Lost Isle's famous mai tais. The private party island will not be open this holiday or possibly for the entire boating season.

"I have been going to Lost Isle for the past 20-plus years, and you see things there that you only see on TV," Oakley resident Mike Painter said.

Owner David Wheeler Jr. has been unable to obtain a valid entertainment permit from San Joaquin County to allow dancing, a DJ and live music at the Stockton waterway destination about 20 miles east of Discovery Bay.

He also said the weak economy has made it difficult to turn a profit in the past decade.

The county sheriff is requiring as many as eight state-licensed security personnel on busy weekends as a permit restriction. Wheeler is appealing that staffing requirement but has agreed to upgrade the sewage system.

"We could never afford to pay for that many sheriff deputies there," he said. "Most people feel that Lost Isle is a very safe place."

The Sheriff's Office did not return calls for comment this week. A county planning commission meeting on the matter is scheduled June 4.

Living the delta lifestyle

The landmark opened in 1946, and at its peak of popularity drew as many as 8,000 water enthusiasts over a holiday weekend. Wheeler said he has been in a battle with the county for at least five years, and the lack of dancing and music has slashed profits by 50 percent from a decade ago.

"I think they just consider us a nuisance, and they wish we would go away," he said. "We need to have places on the delta where people can go, walk around and have a social drink."

Trisha Meagher, owner of the nearby Wind Mill Cove, said Lost Isle is a real delta draw. "Their slogan is 'the weekend you will never remember.' People will be living that delta lifestyle right in front of them," she said. "The draw is that the delta is a great vacation place to be part of."

Wheeler bought the palm tree-lined island with a Tiki bar theme in 1996, and said he has spent a lot of money trying to make facility improvements. He added that it has the potential to generate major county revenue.

"Now with all of the laws and regulations that apply to the delta, it is hard to rebuild anything," Wheeler noted.

Last summer, there was a gang- related, fatal stabbing on the island, but that is the first time a violent act has been committed there, Wheeler said. He wants to install a scope device that would scan driver's licenses and records of visitors to ban them later if they cause problems.

Lost Isle's closing will hurt tourism and other delta businesses, according to California Delta Chamber Executive Director Bill Wells.

"Lost Isle is an icon on the delta. About 25 percent of the calls we get from tourists are about Lost Isle," he said. "It has been well-known since the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has developed a following around the country."

Small-business owner Suzanne Black said the closure will affect the delta economy in terms of gas, dining, boat berthing and house boat rentals because Lost Isle is the cornerstone of the delta.

Visitors of all ages love the tropical resort atmosphere there, Black said.

"It is an amazing place. It is controlled. If they don't get the permits, these people will go elsewhere where it is not controlled," she said.