It’s been an eventful 12 months in Dana Point with major changes being made to the downtown Lantern District, plans being laid for the future redevelopment of Doheny Village and the county initiating efforts to find independent contractors to set in place as part of the upcoming Harbor revitalization project.
As 2015 comes to a close, we are taking a quick look back at many of the issues and stories that made headlines throughout the year.
A Del Prado Business Boost: As Lantern District revitalization projects moved to the Del Prado Avenue side of the city’s downtown area, the city and the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce launched efforts to help support area businesses during infrastructure construction. Shop Del Prado was a monthly incentive to shop and dine on the street for a chance at winning prizes donated by local hotels and other businesses, with one entry for every $10 spent at a Del Prado business.
Coastal Commission Hears Harbor Plan Appeal: After an appeal filed by Bruce Heyman, president of Boaters 4 Dana Point, against the Coastal Development Permit for landside/commercial core improvements at Dana Point Harbor was rejected by the City Council, Heyman took his appeal to the California Coastal Commission. Heyman’s appeal was based on concerns that the plan would adversely affect boater amenities such as parking and storage and that building heights were out of step with community character. The Coastal Commission found no substantial issues with the CDP—which had previously been changed to address its concerns—denied Heyman’s and one other appeal against the plan and officially gave the commercial core CDP the thumbs-up.
Save Our Hospital: Dana Point and Capistrano Beach residents joined with San Clemente citizens who formed the group, “Save San Clemente Hospital,” to oppose MemorialCare’s plan to demolish Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in San Clemente—Dana Point’s nearest hospital and ER—and rebuild the facility as an urgent care with no emergency room. An open house hosted by MemorialCare at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point drew a crowd of about 200 people, most wearing red “Save San Clemente Hospital” T-shirts. “Save Our Hospital” signs began popping up on residents’ lawns. Assemblyman Bill Brough and Senator Pat Bates announced plans to introduce legislation that could allow the hospital to operate a free-standing ER. In March, City Council followed suit with other area cities by passing a resolution to save the Saddleback Memorial Medical Center hospital and the ER. Legislation is expected to be heard by a committee in January 2016.
Chamber Installs New Board, Honors Members: The Dana Point Chamber of Commerce, at its Annual Meeting and Installation Dinner, honored outgoing Chairwoman Lauralyn Loynes and welcomed 2015 Chairman Enzo Scognamiglio. Loynes recapped the chamber’s successes including the creation of the Doheny Village Task Force and Shop Del Prado. The Ambassador of the Year Award went to Richard Deffenbaugh, owner of Dana Point Auto. Nancy Jenkins was chosen as Citizen of the Year and Business of the Year honors went to Elaine LaVine of State Farm Insurance.
San Juan Picks Up Skatepark Talks: The city of San Juan Capistrano took up a plan to build a skatepark in the city following a late 2014 community effort to get a skatepark built in Dana Point. By the end of the year, San Juan had chosen a location for the park at the city’s sports park near Marco Forster Middle School. Fundraising is currently underway. After finding no suitable space for a park in Dana Point, the city expressed interest in the possibility of helping San Juan to fund their park.
Estrella Plaza Refurbishment Kicks Off: A project to redesign and refurbish the Estrella Plaza shopping center—the former home to Kmart and Big Lots stores on Camino De Estrella at the San Clemente/Capo Beach border—is set to begin. Stores expected to move in include Sports Authority, Stein Mark and Sprouts. Construction continued through the end of the year.
Lantern District Parking Plan Changes Approved: City Council approved an extension of a contract with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting and an additional $41,190 to continue work on proposed amendments to the Lantern District parking management program. Proposed changes to the program include a reduction of parking spaces required in the original Town Center Plan, short-term leases of existing lots for parking and the allowance of in lieu spaces and in lieu fees of $40,000 per space from developers in order to satisfy parking requirements.
Schools Locked Down: Capistrano Unified School District schools were locked down after a bomb threat mentioning San Clemente High School was phoned in to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. All campuses were cleared within three hours of the threat.
Ocean Institute CEO Steps Down: After 22 years at the Ocean Institute—11 as president and CEO—Dan Stetson stepped down. Stetson’s wife, a special education teacher, retired from her position and he went into semi-retirement in order to spend more time with her. Stetson stayed on at the Ocean Institute part time to work on special projects and endowments.
Planning Commission Changes: The staggered four-year terms of Commissioners Liz Claus, Susan Whittaker and Gary Newkirk were set to expire on March 31. The terms of Norm Denton and April O’Connor would expire in March 2017; however Mayor Carlos Olvera had asked that all five commissioners reapply. Only Newkirk did not re-apply. The City Council chose to reelect O’Connor and Claus and selected Eric Nelson, Danni Murphy and Scott McKhann to the remaining three seats.
Chamber Moves: The offices of the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce moved from its office on La Plaza—its home since 1989—to a larger space at 34163 Pacific Coast Highway.
Toll Road Extension a No-go Again: The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board upheld their June 2013 decision once again rejecting the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency’s request for a required water quality permit to extend the 241 Toll Road. The decision was based on their 2013 conclusion that the extension was part of a TCA plan to build the toll road in segments, eventually extending it south of San Juan Creek to connect with Interstate 5 at the Orange County/San Diego County line at San Onofre State Park causing environmentally destructive effects.
Residential Hens a No Go: City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s February vote not to recommend a proposal to City Council to allow the keeping of up to six hens in residential neighborhoods. The vote was 4-1 with Councilman John Tomlinson in favor of allowing the keeping of chickens.
Mandatory Water Restrictions: In response to the ongoing drought, Gov. Edmund “Jerry” Brown ordered a statewide order for cities to cut water usage by 25 percent. The South Coast Water District restricted landscaping irrigation to one day per week.
South Shores Church Expansion gets Planning Commission Approval: After seven years of hearings, the Planning Commission approved the church’s plan for an expansion project that will more than double it in size. Opponents long argued the project would have detrimental effects on traffic, wildlife and the stability of the hill the buildings sit on. The final plan included 16 mitigation measures including a reduction of square footage from the original plan, and the lowering of the height of one of the buildings by 15 feet.
Town Center Initiative Gathers Signatures: A group of residents, led by Betty Hill, began gathering signatures in support of an initiative they said would give Dana Point voters a chance to tell the city what they want in Town Center (Lantern District). Their opposition to the city’s progression in the Town Center/Lantern District plan included an assertion that the city was proposing permanent changes to the plan that “do not align with its intent,” Hill said. Among the changes at issue were parking plan changes and the approval of a variance that would allow part of the upcoming mixed-use Majestic project to include a section of four-story residences when the plan originally limited projects to three stories. Although the four-story condo approval kept the building height at the allowed 40 feet, a variance to allow a height extension for elevator towers and in lieu parking fees for developers were approved.
Wind & Sea Restaurant Damaged by Fire: An early morning fire caused an estimated $120,000 in damage to the restaurant’s auxiliary kitchen near the bar area. The cause of the blaze was found to be pyrolysis, the drying out of and ignition of adjacent wood in the wall behind the stove, due to long-term exposure to heat. Cleanup was done quickly and the restaurant was OK’d to open for dinner the same evening.
Battle of the Paddle Canceled: Rainbow Sandals announced the Battle of the Paddle stand-up paddling event would be stopping short of reaching its eighth anniversary. After moving from Doheny Beach to Salt Creek in 2014, Rainbow Sandals owner Jay “Sparky” Longley announced his company would no longer be producing the event.
High School Teacher Arrested: Dana Hills High School Spanish teacher Ezequiel Barragan was arrested for alleged child molestation and possession of child pornography. Barragan was accused of assaulting a victim he met while acting as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Orange County children. The victim was not a DHHS student, authorities said.
Trolley Service Ready to Roll: The city’s summer weekend trolley service began offering riders a free lift around town and connecting access to the city of Laguna Beach’s trolley service. The pilot program was required to attract a minimum ridership of 10 boardings per hour in order to maintain grant funding from the Orange County Transporation Authority. The trolley’s ridership exceeded the goal, providing for its return in summer 2016.
South Shores Church Expansion Approved by City Council: The Dana Point City Council voted unanimously to approve the South Shores Church expansion. The church was OK’d to begin carrying out its project as a 10-year phased plan.
Red Crabs Carpet Beaches: Pelagic red crabs, or tuna crabs, washed up on city beaches by the hundreds of thousands. The 1- to 3-inch-long crabs’ appearance was likely just one of the predictors of an approaching El Niño weather pattern, having ridden a tell-tale warm water current from Baja.
Doheny Village Plan Timeline Set: City Council approved a timeline for the revitalization plan for the Doheny Village area of Capistrano Beach, targeting a December 2017 goal for Coastal Commission approval.
BevMo! is a Go: Following the Planning Commission’s June vote to deny an appeal asking that a conditional use permit for a BevMo! store at the south end of the Lantern District be denied, City Council voted to approve the CUP. Although appellants had the option of appealing the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council, no further appeals were filed.
Restaurateurs Honored by State: Dana Point restaurateurs Enzo Scognamiglio (Brio Tuscany Grille) and Jim Miller (The Coffee Importers) saw their businesses named “Small Business of the Year” by Assemblyman Bill Brough and Senator Pat Bates, respectively. The two traveled to Sacramento for the award ceremony.
Ocean Institute Names New President: Dori Dennis Moorehead was named as the new president and CEO for the Ocean Institute. Moorehead replaced Dan Stetson who retired from the post.
Former DP Yacht Broker Sentenced: Edward Sellers Fitzgerald, a former Dana Point yacht broker was sentenced to seven years in prison for defrauding 26 local residents of more than $1.3 million through a 2009 yacht investment and sale scheme.
Parking Plan Approved: City Council approves a Lantern District parking plan which includes a reduction of the parking requirements inherited by the county when the Town Center Plan was originally written, as well as a shared parking plan and establishing a parking benefit district for residential areas.
HBD to RHD: The Dana Point Historical Society honored the city’s namesake Richard Henry Dana Jr. with a 200th birthday celebration aboard the Ocean Institute’s replica brig Pilgrim. Dana sailed aboard the ship while working as a merchant seaman in the cowhide trade, a job that brought him to Dana Point’s shores and eventually led to his mention of the area as the “only romantic spot on the coast” in his memoir, Two Years Before the Mast. A commemorative bicentennial plaque was later added to the R.H. Dana statue on Island Way at the Harbor.
IlluminOcean Canceled: The Dana Point Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) announced the cancelation of the IlluminOcean holiday lighting display, introduced in 2014 at the Harbor. Businesses and residents opposed the decision, alleging the TBID’s move ran contrary to the purpose of the TBID for promoting the city as a destination and was canceled because the board believed the lights had no direct effect on hotel sales.
Doheny Village Plan Design Begins: A community open house was held at Capo Beach Church to update the public on Doheny Village Plan progress. The workshop was the first in a series of meetings, including a design charrette in September, during which residents were invited to provide direct input to planners Opticos Design, Inc. in creating a design for the project.
From the Core and to the Point: Longtime Salt Creek surfers, nicknamed “the Core,” placed a Larry “Flame” Moore memorial at Salt Creek point. The unpermitted rock with a plaque, depicting the late surf photographer’s image was placed at the point in the middle of the night by Gary Dapelo. Dapelo and other Core members sited a frustration with too much red tape as a reason for placing the monument. The county ordered the rock removed but Dapelo proved its placement was not within county jurisdiction. The memorial may have landed in a “no man’s land” as the state has yet to weigh in on its status and the rock remains in place.
CUSD Discusses Potential Arts School for Doheny Village: The Capistrano Unified School District began discussion regarding the creation of a potential performing arts school to be built in the south bus yard in Doheny Village.
Tsunami Warning: A tsunami advisory was issued by the National Tsunami Warning Center following a magnitude 8.3 earthquake off the coast of Chile. Minor surging of less than a foot of water in the Harbor was the only effect seen. No damage was reported.
Court Rules against City in Strand Gates Case: A San Diego court ruled in favor of the California Coastal Commission and against the city’s ongoing efforts to keep gates and restricted hours in place at two of the five Dana Strand Beach accessways running through the Strand at Headlands neighborhood.
It’s a Two-way Street: Del Prado Avenue was opened to two-way traffic upon the completion of Lantern District infrastructure construction including new sidewalks, medians and landscaping. Area business people rejoiced and a Del Prado Art Walk was held to introduce visitors to the more pedestrian-friendly street.
Voice of Dana Point, Gene Burrus Passes Away:
The city mourns the loss of longtime youth baseball, parade, senior center bingo announcer and community volunteer Gene Burrus. Burrus’ became one of the city’s most beloved figures, with his golden voice, personality and generosity, since “retiring” to Dana Point in 1986 and beginning 15 years of volunteer service to the city including more than a decade as the play-by-play announcer for Dana Point Youth Baseball.
TBID Offers IlluminOcean Lights, $25,000 to Harbor for Holiday Display: The TBID offered the county the use of last year’s IlluminOcean lights and money in order to help with the lighting of the Harbor for the 2015 holiday season. Harbor Director Brad Gross initially said thanks, but, no thanks, to the offer. Eventually the city worked with the county parks department and to put together a plan to enhance the holiday lighting in the Harbor.
County Issues RFP for OC Sailing & Events Center: The County of Orange issued a Request for Proposals for a private company/independent contractor to assume management of the OC Sailing & Events Center. Groups such as Westwind Sailing and the Sea Scouts opposed the county’s move, saying that privatization will put their services in jeopardy as they believe a private owner could either remove them or price them out of the center. Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the move was made in order to mitigate the approximately $300,000 per year the county spends on keeping the center open and the RFP requires the new manager to continue to include the types of community serving programs offered there. Opponents launched campaigns against the RFP, including candlelight vigils and an online petition.
County Seeks Public/Private Partnership for Harbor Revitalization: The OC Board of Supervisors issued a Request for Qualifications, to be followed by an RFP for the selection of a company to hold a master ground lease for the management and operation of Harbor improvements.
Capo Beach Woman Convicted for Murder: Kelly Michele Wolfe, 46, was convicted for the hit-and-run, drunk driving murder of 76-year-old Marthann Demchuk on July 4, 2013. Demchuk was standing in the gutter near the intersection of Camino Capistrano and Coast Highway with her 12-year-old blind grandson when Wolfe stuck and killed her. Wolfe would be sentenced in November to 18 years to life.
City Offers Strand Access Compromise: In response to the court ruling against the city and in favor of the Coastal Commission, City Council voted to approve a Coastal Development Permit it felt adequately balances public access with public safety at Dana Strand and changed the hours at the two accessways through the Headlands neighborhood from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. The Coastal Commission immediately disagreed, again ordering the gates and hours completely removed. Council began a series of closed session meetings to discuss the city’s intent to forego further litigation and work toward a compromise with the commission. The city also responded by locking the gates open 24/7.
Town Center Initiative Certified: Following the OC Registrar of Voters’ October certification of the Town Center Initiative, City Council certified the initiative and voted to order a staff report before making a decision whether to adopt it as is or set it for an election.
Dedicating the District: The city celebrated the dedication of the Lantern District with an official ribbon cutting ceremony beneath the freshly-completed Lantern District gateway arch.
Former DP Marina Manager Sentenced for Embezzlement, Misappropriation of Public Funds: Brian Cleveland Dunn, of Capo Beach, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in jail, three years probation and ordered to pay restitution to Vintage Marina Partners, the company he worked for as a marina manager at Dana Point Harbor. Between 2008 and 2012, Dunn charged the county more than $132,787 by submitting falsified invoices for Harbor landscaping materials purchased at a 100 percent markup from a landscaping company he started in 2008. Prior to his plea and sentencing, Dunn had paid the amount back to the county. Dun also made more than $440,000 worth of unauthorized purchased with the Vintage Marina Partners company credit card between 2007 and 2011 for personal expenses.
City Council Reorganizes: Both in their first term, former Mayor Pro Tem John Tomlinson and Councilman Richard Viczorek were chosen unanimously by the City Council to serve as mayor and mayor pro tem, respectively, for 2016. The reorganization ended Councilman Carlos Olvera’s 2015 service as mayor.
Council Sends Town Center Initiative to a Vote of the People: After reviewing their ordered staff report on the Town Center Initiative, City Council voted not to adopt it but to set it for a vote as part of the June 7, 2016 regular election.