Hoping to Turn Tide Against Seawall

Times Staff Writer

A developer’s plan to expand an old seawall along a picturesque stretch of beach in Dana Point has angered an environmental group that opposes what it calls the “armoring” of the state’s coastline.

Though the developers for the Dana Point Headlands project have received city approval, the Surfrider Foundation said the builders are taking advantage of a state law that permits repair or expansion of seawalls that protect an existing structure.

For the record:

12:00 AM, May. 22, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 22, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Dana Point Headlands -- An article in the California section May 4 about the Dana Point Headlands development incorrectly reported that the Orange County Coastkeeper, an environmental group, supports a proposal to expand a seawall for the project. Although the group supports water-quality provisions for the project, it opposes the seawall expansion.

In this case, the structure is the remnants of a trailer park that soon will be gone.

“All you’ve got there is an old clubhouse, concrete pads and a few roads,” said Michael R. Lewis, a geologist and surfer.


The trailer park was condemned in the 1980s, Lewis said, and will be razed to make way for the bluff-top project, which still must be approved by the California Coastal Commission.

Surfrider and other environmental groups have long opposed seawalls and artificial reefs, arguing they can cause sand erosion and act as an unnatural barrier to the ocean.

But developer Sanford Edward of Headlands Reserve LLC of Dana Point said he must reinforce the seawall to help stabilize the bluff for his project, safeguard the marine ecology and protect the public parks that are going to be built.

Officials of other environmental groups, such as Orange County Coastkeeper, called the Dana Point seawall expansion reasonable and said it won’t damage the seashore.

Surfrider members are undeterred, however.

“The developer is claiming a dilapidated mobile home park is an existing structure, and that’s ridiculous because once they get approval they’re going to raze the mobile home park and build ... new homes,” Lewis said.

If the Coastal Commission gives the OK at a hearing expected to be held this summer, it would set a dangerous precedent allowing developers statewide to renovate revetments and then build large projects, Lewis said.

Lewis said Surfrider members have launched a petition campaign to persuade the Coastal Commission to force the developer to pursue alternatives along the stretch of beach known locally as the Strand.


Building sand dunes that might serve as a soft beach berm might be one possibility, Lewis said.

Dana Point Mayor William L. Ossenmacher said the City Council approved the project after consultants hired by Edward explained the need for the seawall.

“One of the reasons we approved it is because it’s trying to preserve the kelp forest out there,” Ossenmacher said. “But it’s reconstruction of an existing revetment and not a new one, and it actually appeared to be a plus.”

The plan includes reinforcing a revetment that runs 2,240 feet at a height of 15 to 19 feet. “We’re reinforcing about 2,100 feet and at an average of a foot to 2 feet higher,” Edward said.


The Coastal Commission’s staff has already weighed in on the Headlands project, expressing concern about the potential effects on water quality and threatened species such as the coastal California gnatcatcher.

The Headlands dispute, which has raged for decades, has included two successful referendums in 1994 that overturned the City Council’s approval of a 400-room hotel, a commercial center and 370 homes.

Although the Headlands owner sued, the courts upheld the referendums -- and ruled that the owners have a right to use their land and that the city must allow some development or be ready to compensate the landowners.

Edward has reduced the project to 125 ocean-view lots selling for $1.5 million to $3 million each, a 65-room seaside inn similar to the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, 40,000 square feet of commercial space and five parks linked by greenbelts and three miles of trails.