A homemade sign reading open is taped on top of the city issued entrance gate to the Mid Strands access point. (Niko LaBarbera/Lariat)
An ongoing battle between the Dana Point City Council and California Coastal Commission over two public access routes to Strands Beach may finally be over. The city council voted unanimously this month to keep the electronic gates that limit public access to Strands and extend their hours of operation to one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset.
The lengthy legal battle between the city and coastal commission began in 2009 when the city of Dana Point built gates at the central and mid-Strands access points. They also began locking them from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. from October to April and 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. from May to September.
The coastal commission opposed these actions and claimed the gates violated the Coastal Act of 1976 and Local Coastal Program and responded by requiring the city to file a Coastal Development Permit to warrant these actions.
The city challenged these claims in 2010 and issued a nuisance abatement ordinance that stated the city maintained the right to regulate the access to Strands with gates, in order to protect against potential criminal activities in the Strands Headlands development neighborhood.
After five years of court proceedings a decision was finally made this September by San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp, who ruled in favor of the coastal commission and declared that the Dana Point City Council unlawfully passed the abatement ordinance and that it was passed in an attempt to avoid the Coastal Act requirements.
This judgment granted the Coastal Commission authority to overrule any further closures to the mid-Strands access point whether it be by electronic gates or restrictive hours.
The city council responded to the ruling this month by unanimously approving a coastal development permit that will keep the electronic gates at the central and mid-Strands access points, but lengthen the hours of operation to one hour before sunrise and to one hour after sunset.
It is unknown how the coastal commission will respond to the cities CDP, but it is safe to assume more litigation may be in store, considering the electronic gates are still in place and functioning.
The CDP that was adopted by the Dana Point city council is similar to one that was approved by the Malibu City Council and coastal commission and is viewed by Dana Point as a plan that takes everybodies interests into consideration.
Dana Point local and Saddleback student Connor Dunlap disagrees with the city council’s decision and feels unregulated access to public beaches should be a freedom community members deserve.
“It’s good they extended the hours the gates operate, but I personally don’t think they should be there at all,” Dunlap said. “They make it seem like wanting to be on the beach at night is a crime rather than a right.”
Dunlap is referring to the testimony of a Dana Point police representative identified only as Mr. Greenwood at a previous city council meeting in an attempt to justify the gates and restrictive hours along with the nuisance abatement ordinance. Greenwood claimed removal of the gates and restrictive hours could result in “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”
These were the speculations that Judge Randa Trapp dismissed and found to be “a good theatre against the backdrop threat of litigation from the coastal commission, but not rooted in reality.”
With the city council’s approval of their CDP this month, the next step in seeing what happens to the gates will be to see how the coastal commission responds and whether or not they agree with the extended hours and continued gate closure at night.