Our Home Port: An Open Letter to Dana Point Harbor

By James Lenthall

We’ve just closed one of the most remarkable and transformative years in our harbor’s history, and we’re about to embark on a new year likely to be no less impactful and dramatic. Barely a year ago, the County of Orange and our Dana Point Harbor community were still busy auditioning private developers to assume the Harbor Revitalization Plan and operate our harbor for the rest of most of our lives. Dana Point Harbor Partners was selected as our development partner, and this past fall signed their 66-year master lease, with a plan to spend $330 million rebuilding Dana Point Harbor. What a year it was.

In 2019, detailed plans for the redevelopment of our harbor will be finalized, permits will be sought, and the first tangible signs of our harbor’s future may begin to emerge. What a year it will be. The success of the path ahead will depend entirely on this diverse, complex and passionate community striving toward common goals with civility, patience, respect and cooperation. That’s no easy undertaking.

I’ve spent my entire life around Dana Point Harbor, and I’ve been privileged over the past dozen years to play a role in guiding our harbor into its future. I’ve observed the planning for our harbor’s transformation up close; I’ve shared in the sting of failures and the delights of achievements. I’ve gained a sense of both our community’s vulnerabilities to blunder and the recipes for our successes. So, with the aid of hindsight, with enthusiasm in foresight, and with sincere humility, I offer this appeal to our Dana Point Harbor community:

To Dana Point Harbor Partners: No doubt by now you’ve experienced the exceptional character of our Dana Point Harbor community – our passion and care for this place, our (sometimes) challenging temperament, our attention to detail, our demands to be heard and respected, and to be informed. This goes without saying, but Dana Point Harbor is not just another commercial retail center; this isn’t just another harbor. Dana Point Harbor is a way of life. For so many of us, it’s part of our identity. It’s far more than just where we eat and shop, or where we park our boats. Dana Point Harbor is where we spend our lives, find our joy, raise our families, invigorate our bodies and souls, and nurture our spirits. Our devotion to this place will be your indispensable ally, or a formidable opponent. Your choice. Partner with this community, keep us informed, seek our input, tap our experience and ingenuity, and you will find your success. Or… (alternative implied). The Dana Point Harbor community will embrace change, tolerate inconveniences, offer assistance and champion your cause. So long as we remain informed and respected, and confident in a future that honors our past and protects the charm of Dana Point Harbor.

To our state, county and city officials: Of course, Dana Point Harbor remains a public asset. In 1961, the State of California deeded in trust this stretch of coast to the County of Orange to develop and operate as a municipal boat harbor. Nothing in these recent developments changes the public’s ownership of our harbor. Our elected officials and their agencies and staff retain their obligations to protect Dana Point Harbor, to ensure continued public benefit and affordable coastal access, and to provide supervision and guidance over the course of the redevelopment and 66-year lease of Dana Point Harbor. Please, never lose faith to your continued accountability to this community and our harbor. We’re counting on it.

To the citizens of Dana Point Harbor (and a note to self): It’s not always going to be easy, or pleasant, or without its inconveniences, annoyances and mysteries. Rebuilding our harbor while keeping the shops and restaurants open, without displacing boats, and maintaining public access will be a massive challenge. At times we will be frustrated, even infuriated. Some of our boaters already know this. But the long arc of this project leads to a promising horizon. Let’s keep our eye on the big picture. Let’s expect to recall this stretch of time, and all its bumps and bruises, as a worthy undertaking. Yet, let’s never let our guard down, or stop defending the fundamental traits of what make Dana Point Harbor so special, so vital, to all of us. Let’s scrutinize every development, demand information and answers, and let’s hold our public and private partners accountable to all of us. We must be informed and remain objective. Let’s strive to look back on these days with pride at our community’s unyielding embrace and protection of our harbor.

To the social media posters: Be accurate. Be knowledgeable. Check your facts. If you don’t know it, please, don’t post it. So many fires have been ignited by false information, rumors, innuendos. Fabricated community outrage benefits nobody. Nobody. It only undermines relationships, collaboration and productivity. Rant over.

These are make-or-break times for our harbor. The decisions made and courses set in 2019 will affect how the generations that follow us experience Dana Point Harbor. Commitments by all participants to collaboration, communication, transparency, and occasional compromise are essential to setting and achieving our common goals. I humbly offer this advice for the future of our beloved harbor.

Cheers to a joyous and successful 2019.

James Lenthall is a lifelong Dana Point resident and boater, and presently serves as president of the Dana Point Boaters Association, chair of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board, and as a director on the board of Dana Point Yacht Club.

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