- 07 June 2011 | Environment
The Surfrider Foundation won an important victory today when Judge Joan M. Lewis ruled in favor of open beach access at the Dana Point Strands Beach. Specifically, she ruled that the City of Dana Point’s severe beach access restrictions are unlawful because the record put forth by the City was "entirely lacking in evidentiary support for declaring a nuisance and that the City acted arbitrarily and capriciously in making such a declaration."
"We are very pleased to see Judge Lewis rule in favor of the public interest at Strands Beach, instead of allowing the private development to lock out beachgoers from the main accessway at this beautiful beach," says Surfrider Managing Attorney Angela Howe. "Surfrider Foundation brought this lawsuit to defend public beach access – a right that is sacred in California."
From the beginning, Strands Developer Headlands Reserve LLC intended to provide a private beach for residents who purchase the multi-million dollar homes. In October 2008, the developer attempted to get out of building a central stairway to the beach, telling the California Coastal Commission that the Mid-Strand access stairway was "geo-technically infeasible." The Commission saw through the excuse and required that the stairway be built. The case at hand was a result of the locked gates and restrictive hours installed at that central Mid-Vista stairway.
In June 2010, McDermott Will & Emery LLP on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit against the City of Dana Point, challenging its unlawful restriction on beach access at Strands Beach by erecting gates and signage at two access ways to the public beach at Strand Vista Park. This action arose from the City’s enforcement of illegal restrictions on beach access through the passage of an Urgency Ordinance on March 22, 2010, and its willful disregard of the May 13, 2010 unanimous decision by the Coastal Commission to open up beach access.
The City’s urgency ordinance cites "public nuisance" conditions in an attempt to set restrictive hours on the public’s use of the Mid-Strands access. The police report directed to the City Council, along with comments from both the City Manager Doug Chochkevys and City Attorney Patrick Munoz alleged "sex parties," "homeless encampments," "vandalism," and "spring break traffic” issues exist as reasons to enact the urgency ordinance. However, Judge Lewis’ ruling found this evidence to be “pure speculation” and “entirely lacking."
"This is a great victory for the rights of public access to our state's beaches, which belong to everyone," says Rick Erkeneff, Vice Chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s South Orange County Chapter. "I knew from the start that the urgency ordinance was bogus, and applaud the police department for having a stellar record, making Dana Point a safe community for my family and other residents."
Judge Lewis granted Surfrider Foundation’s request for declaratory relief that that there was no properly declared nuisance and ruled that the City’s nuisance ordinance should be set aside. The City of Dana Point cannot abate a nuisance in excess of that necessary without obtaining a Coastal Development Permit from the California Coastal Commission pursuant to the order. Now the City cannot maintain its gates or signage without a Coastal Commission permit.