A stretch of sand at the mouth of the Santa Ana River known to many as an unofficial dog beach will be closed for months beginning early next week as Orange County officials move forward with dredging in the area.
The work is part of a project that is expected to remove about a million yards of beach-quality sand from about 31/2 miles of the Santa Ana River bed between Adams Avenue and the river mouth, which straddles the border of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.
County public works officials said the project is meant to clear sand from the river and move it to nearby beaches in an effort to prevent the river from flooding during storms and improve the flow of water into the ocean.
The dredged sand would be placed along the shore in West Newport, Balboa Island and China Cove. Surfside and pocket beaches in Huntington Harbour also are expected to receive some sand, officials said.
Officials announced this week that crews will begin working in the river mouth area on Monday, which means dog lovers and their canine companions who frequent the unofficial dog beach will not be permitted in the area.
The stretch is expected to reopen in May, said OC Public Works spokesman Shannon Widor.
"We're at the point of the project when we need to close the areas at the outlet to accommodate project activities there," Widor said. "We held off on certain major activities there to keep that area accessible for the public while we performed activities in other areas along the Santa Ana River."
During a presentation to the Newport Beach City Council in June, county staff said dredging the area likely will remove, at least temporarily, the sand bar that has long been a popular spot for people to let their dogs run off leash.
Past dredging projects indicate that tidal action eventually will bring sand back to the mouth of the river, restoring the beach, but officials said it is unclear how long that might take. Nardy Khan, interim deputy director for OC Public Works, estimated the sand could be gone for weeks or months.
Newport Beach resident Mike Glenn, who has led a charge to permanently designate the area as a dog beach, said he expects a large south swell will replenish the sand within about a month after the project is completed.
"Everyone kind of knows it has to happen," he said of the dredging. "We don't want any of the communities flooding, so this is a necessity. We're all going to have to deal with it."
The area has received significant attention in the past year from county and Newport Beach officials, nearby homeowners and those who frequent the spot with their dogs. Supporters of a dog beach designation have praised the stretch of sand as a mellow alternative for their dogs to run and play off leash, away from the crowds and large waves typical at the dog beach on Goldenwest Street in Huntington Beach.
The issue of leash laws came to the forefront in the area in 2015 after Newport Beach's then-mayor, Diane Dixon, said she was fielding complaints from nearby homeowners about unleashed dogs and unremoved dog waste.
In response, the city conducted an online survey to determine whether Newport residents would favor the city enforcing county leash laws at that beach. Hundreds of people responded, with the majority asking the city to leave the area alone.
Last March, after two hours of passionate testimony from dog owners, Newport's Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission unanimously rejected a proposal to have city animal-control officers enforce leash restrictions there. The commission instead suggested the county look into designating the area as an official dog beach.
Dixon, city staff members, dog beach advocates and county Supervisor Michelle Steel, whose district includes Newport Beach, began working on a proposal to that effect.
An ordinance to designate the area as the first legal dog beach on county land passed the Board of Supervisors' first reading but stalled in May over concerns from two environmental groups that having unleashed canines there could harm two at-risk bird species.
The county commissioned an initial study of the possible effects last year. The study determined the dog beach would not create significant environmental problems.
It isn't clear when the ordinance could return to the Board of Supervisors for further consideration.
"After a year and a half we've spent on it, I think this will finally be over soon," Glenn said.