ARRESTING DEVELOPMENT

posted by / News / January 26, 2004

Is the surf at the Dana Point Headlands going the way of Killer Dana? It certainly looks that way after the California Coastal Commission narrowly approved a development project that threatens to ruin the waves at the break known as Strands.The main issue local surfers and the Surfrider Foundation have over the proposed hotel, residential and commercial development is that it seeks to rebuild and move the existing large seawall back ten feet and also raise it to stabilize the cliff face. Surfrider and the {{{Sierra}}} Club contend that moving the seawall constitutes new construction and point out that it’s illegal under California law to construct new seawalls. The developer of the project, Sanford Edward, terms the move as simply a “repair” of the existing seawall to get around the statute.Whatever the semantics, the disputing parties also hotly contest what the future effects of moving the seawall will be. According to Surfrider’s Environmental Director, Chad Nelsen, moving the seawall back will cause the beach to erode at a much faster rate than normal because the natural erosion of the cliff face helps replenish the sand on the beach. “Over the course of ten years this project will cause Strands to lose its beach,” he says. Without sand, not only will the beach cease to exist, he contends, but the fickle left breaking off the headland will disappear as well. “There used to be a nice, wide beach there but right now it’s swamped on high tide during a decent swell, and in a few years it won’t break on lower tides either,” says Nelsen. WCT pro and local Pat O’Connell agrees with Nelson’s assessment. “I still surf there a lot in the summer,” says O’Connell. “But over the last few years the window for the wave has gone from a couple of months to a couple of weeks. It’s not what it used to be.”The possibility that the development might destroy another break is a sore spot for local surfers because the biggest and most powerful wave in the area, Killer Dana, was destroyed by the construction of the Dana Point harbor in 1966. The loss of Killer Dana still resonates today because it galvanized many surfers into becoming politically active environmentalists. Toni Iseman of the Laguna Beach City Council contends that while she has respect for both the ocean and the Surfrider Foundation, she still voted to approve the development because it had been downsized. “Years ago the Chandler family had a coastal development permit for two 400 room hotels and 800 residences on the site,” says Iseman. “I’ve watched the plan be refined and made better. It’s down to a {{{90}}}-room hotel, 122 homes, more than 50 percent open space, and three parks for the City of Dana Point.”Iseman also believes that moving the sea wall back will initially make the beach two tenths of an acre larger and discounts Surfrider’s theory that the shift will hasten future erosion. “I do not think that the building of the new homes will have a measurable effect on the sand,” says Iseman. “I’ve been told that the majority of the loss of sand is due to wave action rather than the loss of sand that is deposited over the years from above.” Iseman admits that this opinion came from a geologist hired by Edward, the developer of the project. Surfrider plans to appeal the decision to approve the development. — Jamie Tierney

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