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Judge strikes down city law restricting access to Dana Point beach

June 6, 2011 |  7:37 pm

Dana point 
A judge has struck down an ordinance the city of Dana Point used to restrict public access to a secluded beach below a luxury housing development.

In a ruling last week, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joan M. Lewis said the city was “entirely lacking in evidentiary support for declaring a nuisance and that the City acted arbitrarily and capriciously” when it posted 8-to-5 p.m. hours and erected locked gates to pathways through the oceanfront development known as the Strand at Headlands.

The city supported closing the paths with “pure speculation,” Lewis wrote, including police reports from before the pathways were opened to the public and law enforcement's fears that taking down the fences and signs would “turn the Headlands development basically into an amusement park” where there would be “teenage drinking, teenage smoking, sex parties, sex, drugs and rock and roll…”

The city put up the gates and hours a year and a half ago after the lots below began selling for as much as $12 million. The Dana Point City Council later approved a nuisance abatement ordinance that ordered the nighttime closure of trails to the beach because of what officials said was an increase in crime nearby.

After the Coastal Commission ordered the city to take down the signs and remove the gates because they violated beach access laws, the city shot back with a lawsuit accusing the panel of overstepping its authority. The Surfrider Foundation then weighed in with a lawsuit contending the city was illegally restricting access to a popular surf beach.

The decision puts the issue back in the hands of the Coastal Commission, meaning the city will have to apply for a permit for the signs and gates. The panel approved the 121-acre project in 2004 after a decades-long fight between conservationists and the developer.

--Tony Barboza

Caption: Surfers walk near a Dana Point housing development. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times