Photo by Rosheila RoblesIn 1835, a Boston sailor named Richard Henry Dana sailed around South America's Cape Horn to San Francisco. After a stay in San Diego, he passed by a beautiful uninhabited lagoon sheltered by a lovely promontory that Dana famously called the “only romantic” spot on his way to Monterey. Dana was referring to the so-called Headlands, the 121-acre bluff overlooking Dana Point Harbor.

Last week, the city named after Mr. Dana repaid the compliment by bringing bulldozers to the Headlands, apparently thinking that the most romantic way to preserve the location's wild setting is to tear down the trees, grade the hillsides and build 118 luxury homes and a hotel. Orange County's Surfrider Foundation had filed a lawsuit in San Francisco against the Coastal Commission to prevent developers from breaking ground on environmentally sensitive areas of the Headlands. But the developer, Headlands Reserve LLC, succeeded in getting the case transferred to more developer-friendly Orange County.

On April 15, Surfrider's attorneys went to Santa Ana Superior Court, asking for a temporary restraining order that would halt any construction work on the Headlands until the lawsuit could be heard. But because the case had yet to be officially transferred to Orange County, the city of Dana Point and the developer successfully argued that the court didn't have the right to grant the order.

“Literally by the time they left the courtroom, we got telephone calls saying there was a water truck on the property,” said Mike Lewis, chair of Surfrider's South Orange County chapter. “Then over the weekend, we heard there was a bulldozer, and we have pictures of them ripping up the property. It was amazing how quickly it happened.”

Gene Leff, a local resident and bird lover, says he saw the bulldozers at work. “They just went in with the bulldozers and took out the trees, which have nests in them,” Leff said. “There were nests on the ground too. It was horrifying to watch them go in and knock down the trees.”

Leff said he's been active in Save the Headlands, a group of Dana Point residents formed almost 15 years ago. The group unsuccessfully lobbied the city to purchase the land and preserve it as a nature reserve. According to Leff, the group has essentially ceased to exist; he said he feels “let down” that when the bulldozers rolled out, there was no protest. “The focus of that group was to stay active,” Leff said. “But when the time came, there was nobody there but myself and a few other people. There was no demonstration.”

Part of the reason for the lack of protest was the swiftness with which the developer brought their bulldozers to work. “It was a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am situation,” he said. But Leff also blames local residents for giving up too easily. “Some communities are so strong about saving nature in their community,” he said. “But in South County, the developers run rampant and it will all be concrete pretty soon.”

One local resident who asked not to be identified peppered the Weeklywith telephone calls blasting the project. She said she and other residents had called Surfrider to get an explanation for why the project was going forward when the group still had a lawsuit pending against it.

“They are going in and killing birds and rabbits!” the woman screamed. “Dana Point is 95 percent developed! Now they have bulldozers raping it! Residents still want to save the Headlands and don't want to see it destroyed by rich people's development . . . I'm walking around like I've been raped or something!”

Lewis said Surfrider is doing everything it can to save as much of the Headlands as possible—but it needs more public support. “When we were fighting this, everybody was really apathetic,” he said. “But as soon as a bulldozer goes up there, everybody is calling Surfrider saying 'What the hell happened?' Where were these people when we were trying to raise money and fight this project?”

The South Orange County chapter of Surfrider meets the Second Wednesday of each month at the San Clemente Community Center, the corner of Ave. Del Mar N N. Calle Seville, San Clemente, (949) 492-8248. 7:30 p.m.

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