By Andrea Swayne
The battle for unimpeded access through two of the five accessways—four stairways/paths and a funicular (inclined elevator)—from Stand Vista Park to the beach below the multi-million dollar Headlands at Strand housing development has been heated since late 2009 when the California Coastal Commission demanded the city “revoke the hours and remove the gates” due to a lack of a Coastal Development Permit.
Despite a refusal by all parties involved to yield in their stances, a recent attempt at a meeting seems to suggest the key players wish to avoid further litigation if possible.
WHERE THE FIGHT STANDS NOW
Since San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis sided with the Surfrider Foundation in their June 2011 lawsuit calling Dana Point’s passing gate hours by emergency nuisance declaration “entirely lacking in evidentiary support” and “based on pure speculation,” and ruled it unlawful for the city to keep the hours and gates without obtaining a coastal permit, the city has announced its intention to appeal.
The city’s refusal to yield prompted numerous appearances by Surfrider members at the City Council podium as well as the release of the following formal statement:
“By appealing the San Diego Superior Court’s decision compelling them to maintain unrestricted public access to Strands Beach, the City of Dana Point is sending a clear signal that it values placating the interests of private developers over the interests of the local community. Despite rulings by the California Coastal Commission and Judge Joan Lewis, the City of Dana Point has chosen to pursue further litigation, at a cost of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a point in time when other cities throughout California and the nation are doing everything they can to save money. The Surfrider Foundation calls upon the City of Dana Point to withdraw its Notice of Appeal, comply with Judge Lewis’ ruling, and allow free and unimpeded public beach access to Dana Strands beach,” the statement says.
Munoz said that is simply not the case and that Surfrider isn’t fighting for free and unimpeded public beach access to Strand Beach but for unrestricted access to 775 linear yards of Strand Beach on four public accessways instead of two.
“The Public always has unrestricted access to Strand Beach whenever Strand Beach is open—from 5 a.m. to midnight—pursuant to the city and Coastal Commission Approvals,” said Munoz. “The drawings incorporated with the original Commission approvals depict the gates at the two trail heads in question, and there is no dispute that the Commission approvals give the city the right to set hours for use of the trails leading to Strand Beach. Based on advice from its Sheriff’s representatives, the city has determined it is sufficient to enforce access trail hours on two trails with gates provided free of charge by the developer and specifically approved by the Commission when it reviewed the Headlands project.”
He went on to say that taking the gates down would cost the citizens of Dana Point hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve the same result with staffing by Deputy Sheriffs. A far cry, he said, from continuing the use of the gates that were erected at no cost to the city.
“The City of Dana Point will not abandon its public safety obligations and fiscal responsibilities just because the Surfrider Foundation and the Commission have a philosophical distain for gates,” said Munoz. “The city believes that it—not the Commission or Surfrider Foundation—is lawfully entitled to control how its citizens’ public safety dollars are spent.”
IS COMPROMISE ON THE HORIZON?
Despite all parties’ unwillingness to yield their stances, recent developments in the issue may suggest a movement toward an eventual compromise.
Although a tentatively scheduled August 9 meeting between all involved parties was canceled due to scheduling conflicts—arising from both City Manager Doug Chotkevys’ and Coastal Commission attorney Jamee Patterson’s schedules—City Attorney Patrick Munoz confirmed that it will be rescheduled some time this Fall.
But, Munoz’ statement confirming a future meeting was not the first mention of an attempt at compromise.
Back in June, Surfrider filed a formal complaint against the city in response to citizen reports of a gate remaining locked after the posted opening hour on a summer weekend day. John Ramirez, an attorney representing the city, said in a statement answering the allegation, the locked gate was case of human error that resulted in the addition of a second person to check the gates at Strand to ensure they are open during posted hours. In his brief he went on to say that the city has begun discussions on how to resolve the operational hours without further litigation.
“We’re happy to have conversation regarding changing hours to be reasonable,” said Munoz. “We think they are reasonable now but are open to the idea of a discussion.”
ON THE STREET
Allen Davis, Los Angeles
Surfing here is a great way to beat the LA crowds, but the gates make it inconvenient to surf dawn patrol in the early morning. Beaches should be open to everyone at all times. I think that when it comes to restricting access, the more we’re willing to give the more they’re willing to take. When you pave the roads, put sidewalks in and then put up gates that prevent people from using them during certain hours, the city’s argument that the access here is better than before and the gates are necessary to combat crime, seems more like spin or good PR on their part.
George Michaels, Dana Point
I really don’t consider the gates a restriction. There’s access at both ends of this park. Certainly before 8 a.m. if someone wants to get to the beach they should just park closer to one of the un-gated paths. It seems unreasonable to say that the two constant accesses to the beach aren’t enough.
The supposition that the gate hours will lead to the city or the developer toward “chipping away” at public access is unfounded. The gates and hours seem like a wonderful compromise for the residents of the community and the public and it seems like it works. The whole fight is much ado about nothing.
This park is the best gift that a city can give to a community. There’s free parking, beautiful amenities and people are complaining about it?
Susannah Fairbanks, Dana Point
I think the hours should be a bit more open to surfers and beachgoers in general—maybe until 10 p.m. I’m kind of 50/50 on the issue. I understand both sides. If I lived in this neighborhood I would want some privacy, especially at night. The gates don’t affect me. I usually use the north stairs when I come here to run or walk.
Kris Krigbaum, Dana Point
I’m fine with the gates being locked during the night, for the sake of the homeowners here, but early in the morning, before 8 a.m. there’s no reason to prevent surfers or others who want to use the beach from walking through the neighborhood. The hours really don’t make sense and should be expanded.
Clare Katebian, Laguna Niguel
I walk the beach path five days a week and the hours on the mid-strand gates don’t affect my use at all. It used to be horrible to get down to the beach. The old wood stairs were dangerous and with so many paths to choose from, this is a huge improvement.
Evan Frykman, Saddleback College student
If there should be one access that is open 24/7 it should be the mid-Strand gate. It’s the most convenient for where I want to surf.
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