By Scott Schoeffel
When I was a law student at the University of California, Berkeley in the late ’70s, I was fortunate to work as a graduate legal intern for the California State Coastal Conservancy. The Coastal Conservancy was, and still is, one of the boldest and most innovative coastal management agencies in the world. It has worked closely with the California Coastal Commission to shape land use and development in California’s coastal zone since passage of the California Coastal Act of 1976. But where the Coastal Commission was formed to regulate coastal land use and development, the Coastal Conservancy’s mission is to help optimize the use of the state’s coastal resources through grant funding, land management, planning, development and other means.
As one of the Coastal Conservancy’s first five employees, I regularly visited every part of California’s diverse coastal zone, from the Oregon border to Tijuana, to work on projects and attend public meetings. I got to work closely with developers, non-governmental organizations, local government officials and everyday citizens. It provided me with invaluable lessons about how difficult it can be to get anything done in a climate of strict and often unpredictable governmental regulation and public controversy, even when all stakeholders agree that something has to be done. It also showed me the critical factors necessary for good coastal development to succeed. My work at the Coastal Conservancy steered me to a career in land use and real estate development law and cemented my decision to live next to the coast for the rest of my life. In my law practice, I was able to participate in some of the most complex and challenging coastal development projects in California and other parts of the country. Fourteen years after I moved to Dana Point, I applied for a position on the city’s Planning Commission in 1997, hoping that my years of coastal development experience might be useful to Dana Point as our city grappled early on with its own controversial land use and development issues.
The job took a little longer than I had originally planned. Last week, after almost 20 continuous years of service to Dana Point on the Planning Commission and City Council, I stepped off the dais to enjoy the rest of my life as a Dana Point resident. Despite the hard work under sometimes trying circumstances, I loved every minute of my public service and am very grateful to have had the opportunity. Although important issues must still be addressed, I believe that Dana Point is well positioned to finally realize its extraordinary potential, and at a pace much faster than many have predicted. It all starts with an understanding of how great coastal community development succeeds.
My frequent trips throughout coastal California in the past four decades let me know that other coastal cities can offer our city’s elected and appointed officials valuable knowledge, wisdom and inspiration as they work to form Dana Point’s future. There are many superb examples dotting our coast where local governments, working cooperatively with regulators, developers, financial experts and the public have struck the magic balance among competing interests and created stunning coastal communities with strong economies and happy residents. I would urge our City Council, Planning Commission, Arts and Culture Commission and city staff to hit the road and explore these areas up close and personally, study how results were achieved, and then use that knowledge to help realize our goals for Dana Point. Field trips like these can also help our city officials better understand that how a coastal community feels is every bit as important as how it looks, maybe more. And that is something you can never glean from a consultant’s report or a picture book.
Thank you again for the chance to serve this great city I have called home for more than half of my life. It will always be my Seven Square Miles of Paradise, and the best is yet to come.