UPDATE, JUNE 16, 11:51 A.M.: It's been 15 days since the San Diego Superior Court ruled that The Strand at Headlands development in Dana Point needed to stop preventing beach access to the public. At 7 a.m. on an overcast and drizzly Thursday morning, the gates were locked and members of the Surfrider Foundation were present to express their displeasure.
Rick Erkeneff, the former South County chapter chairman, called the lack of motion by the development to open the gates “a tragedy.”
“It can set a precedent that a city can come up with any reason they want to limit access to any beach for any reason,” he said. “The way the city and the developer went about putting this ordinance in place and locking these gates, it's just a matter of time before they chip away at the rest of our access.”
It was clear that Surfrider's purpose for the fight is about more than access to a single beach. As an organization that tends to similar matters around the globe, and with coastal developments being built throughout the state, it was not comfortable with the housing development in Dana Point “pitched as a piece of paradise” for anyone to “come and own it,” as Erkeneff put it.
“Less than 24 hours ago I was in San Diego, we were talking about the future of California and the future of that region; essentially what we were doing was being proactive about trying to figure out the California that we want,” said Jim Moriarty, the CEO of Surfrider. “Less than 24 hours later we're here talking about open spaces. Imagine if you were in New York City and you wanted to talk a walk or a run through the park and you got to Central Park and it was locked. Open spaces in California are open for everyone, they're not for the private few.”
Messages left with Headlands Reserve LLC, which controls the property, have not yet been returned.
ORIGINAL POST, JUNE 9, 3:48 P.M.: A San Diego Superior Court judge didn't buy Dana Point's “nuisance” complaints, which were intended to validate an ordinance which would limit public beach access through an expensive, new ocean-front neighborhood. The builders of The Strand at Headlands had installed the two beach access points as it had promised, but they came with the undiscussed addition of narrow hours of operation. The court ruled that the development must open the gates beyond its current “Banker's hours.”
The Surfrider Foundation, coastline-focused environmental stewards, had been skeptical of the The Strand project from its conception. Ripping up acres of natural ocean-front land for the purpose of a gated neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes isn't exactly something Surfrider likes to see happen under its watch. But this is Orange County, that property is worth a pretty penny and rich folk love their ocean views.
So it happened. The project was approved in 2004, with compromises the California Coastal Commission refers to as “balancing,” which means “you can do these five bad things, if you also do these five good things,” according to Chad Nelsen, Environmental Director for the Surfrider Foundation. But as the earth movers came in and the housing frames went up, those pre-approved obligations became negotiable in the minds of the builders.
In 2008, the builders complained that the two mid-access entryways it had agreed to build were “infeasible” and too difficult. The Coastal Commission didn't buy it, arguing that if the builders could figure out how to tear up and regrade the entire bluff, it could figure out how to build a staircase.
The mid-access entryways were constructed, but then the hours were posted. That's when Surfrider stepped in once again. They knew the hours were unreasonable– “banker's hours,” Nelsen called them. The beach was being blocked off to all the surfers, walkers, runners and beach enthusiasts that wanted access to public land before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. (or 7 p.m., depending on the season). There are other access points, but that wasn't the point. “[The Strand builders] had an obligation,” Nelsen said. “[The court case] was really about them holding up that obligation.”
In its defense of the limited access, Dana Point city attorney, Patrick Munoz, made claims that “sex parties, “homeless encampments,” “vandalism” and “spring break traffic” were reasons to enact the ordinance. As mentioned, the judge didn't buy into the claims, stating that the plaintiff's evidence was based on “pure speculation.”
Next door to Strands, at Salt Creek, the hours are 5 a.m. to midnight, which Nelsen and Surfrider believe is “reasonable.”
As of the time of this posting, The Strand is not compliant with the ruling, since the hours remain the same and just last night, the gate was locked at 7 p.m.