By Andrea Swayne
Following Dana Point City Council’s unanimous Nov. 3 vote to approve a Coastal Development Permit that would keep gates at two of the five accessways to Strand Beach leading through the Headlands at Strand development and continue limiting hours of access—with a revision of the current schedule—the California Coastal Commission has given the city’s plan the thumbs down.
The council’s approval of the CDP affirmed their belief that the change of access hours at the mid-Strand and central-Strand accessways amounted to a good-faith compromise that adequately balances public access and the interests of Headlands residents and aligns with precedent set by the Ackerberg case, a CDP the commission recently approved in Malibu.
In a letter to the city, dated Oct. 30, Karl Schwing, California Coastal Commission Coastal Program manager, responded to the city’s public notice of the Nov. 3 scheduled hearing, stating that although the commission staff had not initially received a staff report describing the specifics of the proposal, from the notice’s description of a change in hours of operation at the gated accessways, they opposed, as the existing gates are “unpermitted … not consistent with the city’s Local Coastal Plan … and the policies of Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act.”
Schwing also wrote that the Ackerberg/Malibu case cannot legally be applied, as that case “was imposed as a requirement across one single family residential lot and located immediately adjacent to another residence, whereas the Headlands accessways were approved and planned without gates as part of a large residential subdivision” and the city’s LCP and HDCP prohibit the gates.
Schwing also said that the Coastal Act “requires maximum access to be provided consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights, rights of private property owners and natural resource areas from overuse,” adding that should the need for operating hours be evidentially substantiated, they could be established through the CDP process, but the proposed hours, he said, are too restrictive.
Following the Nov. 3 council meeting, Mayor Carlos Olvera signed a letter addressed to Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester, informing him of the council’s decision to move forward with a CDP “similar, if not identical” to the recent Malibu CDP.
The letter also said when the commission originally approved the LCP and HDCP in 2004, the plan called for the city to determine hours of operation on the area’s public trails and also included a depiction of gates in the plan diagrams.
Correspondence from Lester to the city, also dated Nov. 3, stated that although the Coastal Commission shares the city’s desire to work cooperatively to reach a resolution of the matter, the commission had issued a cease and desist order for the removal of the gates and restricted hours and set a Nov. 18 compliance deadline, after which the commission will begin assessing penalties of up to “$11,250, for each violation, for each day the violation has persisted or is persisting, for up to five years.”
City Council met on Wednesday in a special closed session meeting on the issue but gave no comment on the meeting.
Mayor Olvera would not comment on the closed session meeting but said he doesn’t understand the Coastal Commission’s and Surfrider Foundation’s arguments against the beach access hours.
“I wasn’t a part of the City Council from the beginning of this issue and I don’t understand how we even got to this point,” Olvera said. “I also don’t understand the Coastal Commission’s position, telling us we have to open the gates to give public access to a beach that’s closed from midnight to 5 a.m. by the county. And the Surfrider Foundation’s assertion that the mid- and central-Strand paths need to be open to provide maximum access are moot, because the county’s nighttime closed hours are the same no matter which path you take to get there.”