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Panel to Order O.C. Dune Replacement

Times Staff Writer

The California Coastal Commission plans to order the owners of five Newport Beach homes to replace the sand dunes they are accused of illegally bulldozing in the spring to improve their ocean views, officials said Monday.

At issue is a 4-foot-high, 150-foot-long wall of sand dunes that was mysteriously flattened late one April night. The act relieved some owners of multimillion-dollar homes of a natural nuisance blocking ocean views from their ground-level decks. Most residents were mum about the dunes’ demise at the time but seemed pleased that they were gone.

Newport Beach police and commission staffers, after months of investigation, said owners living in five properties on the 7300 block of West Ocean Front Avenue had paid an employee working on the nearby Santa Ana River dredging project $2,000 to level the dunes in front of their beachside decks using an excavator and a front loader.

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The cease-and-desist and restoration orders would probably require the residents to hire a restoration biologist to oversee rebuilding of the mounds, plant the proper native dune plant species and continue monitoring the site for several years to ensure the dunes’ proper restoration, according to commission staff.

The homeowners would have to rely on a specialist “because you can’t just shovel sand into a mound and call it restoration,” said Aaron McLendon, the commission’s statewide enforcement analyst. Similar dune restorations, he noted, have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sand dunes, a disappearing landform in Southern California, are protected by state law. Many support rare ecosystems. The Newport Beach dunes were particularly important because they were close to one of the few successful breeding colonies of the California least tern, an endangered species, McLendon said.

Disputes over sand dunes are a familiar story. Malibu property owners in June hired bulldozers to scoop up tons of public beach sand and pile it on their private beach. The owners said they were simply replacing natural sand berms washed away by flooding during last winter’s heavy storms, but they put the sand back after being ordered to do so by the commission. The two sides are still in litigation over whether the homeowners are liable for fines of up to $15,000 a day for their actions.

The commission’s intended order to the Newport Beach property owners “shows that we’re not picking on Malibu,” McLendon said.


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