Dana Point Headlands Development: Orange County's Disappearing Coastline
The year was 1840 when famed writer and seamen Richard Henry Dana Jr. sailed beneath the high bluffs of what are now known as the headlands of Dana Point (the city later being named after him). It was this spot he declared as "the only romantic spot in California." Up until recently, the headlands of Dana Point retained their romanticism as being one of the last undeveloped coastal habitats in Orange County, and even southern California. Unfortunately, after years of struggle, major construction is underway upon the headlands of Dana Point, and many citizens are saddened by development project.
The plan to develop on this site has been subject to numerous proposals, and denials, ever since the early 1930’s. After years of fighting and strong efforts put forth by environmental agencies like the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation, a plan was approved in early 2002. Dana Point city officials approved what is being called the Headlands Development and Conservation Plan, also known as the HDCP. The HDCP in sum consists of: restroom and showers facilities at Strands beach (a beach just north of the headlands), a cultural and educational center, an early California replica lighthouse, a 35,000 square foot shopping mall and visitor center, 125 custom homes, a 90 room luxury seaside inn, and 68 acres of open parks and trails including 28 acres of designated conservation area. While all of this sounds nice, the plan still falls on deaf ears to many citizens of Dana Point and the surrounding communities. So why are people (myself included) not happy with the project? There are a few reasons.
Why Should I Care?
While the plan does have a strong emphasis on conservation, it will still have many negative effects on the environment. The land itself is home to many plants and animals that are unique to southern California. These include various native shrubs, rare grasses, and hundreds of animals including the California Gnatcatcher and the Pacific Pocket Mouse. The Pacific pocket mouse was put on the endangered species list in 1994. In 2000, only 6 were found to be living in headlands of Dana Point. Between the almost guarantee that visitors will disrespect the designated conservation areas, and the chaos of construction, this number will surely dwindle. Construction will also disrupt the mating habits of many sea birds who use the headlands annually as a breeding grounds.
Strands beach, located below the headlands, will also be affected. The new plan will simultaneously litter the hillside with debris (and houses), intensify crowds on the beach below, and ruin the pristine point break waves. The reason being: developers of the project stress that a sea wall is necessary to protect the bluff from erosion, and to make sure the new homes along the bluff are safe. This means constructing a 2,240-foot long by 18-foot high sea wall. A sea wall of this magnitude will have many damaging effects of the beach and it's wave (popular among surfers). The sea wall will change the natural erosion patterns of the beach sand, create backwash, and change the waves consistency and shape forever.
Aside from these reasons, it is simply a special place that many people don't want to see disappear. It is a sad reminder that nothing good lasts forever, and that politics, and more specifically, money, is capable of bulldozing even the purest of intentions. Gary Wright, a local environmentalist and owner of nearby Killer Dana surf shop, mentioned how “there is a sense of adventure in that land where you feel like you can get away from it all. I don’t want to lose that." Many, including myself, can agree with Gary. Unfortunately, it's too late.