Proposed new docks in Dana Point Harbor — part of a larger plan to upgrade the marina — has spurred criticism from several harbor users, who say the proposal would endanger children swimming at adjacent Baby Beach and exclude some educational boats that would lose their docks in the plan.
While these harbor users concede that much of the marina needs improvement, they say the proposed docks would lead to dangerous overcrowding near the beach and block 20 percent of the shoreline from access to the water.
"Baby Beach is a very unique area. It's the safest, most protected area for young families who want to have a safe area to be at the beach," said Valerie Rhodes, a resident of Dana Point.
Rhodes and others say the county's purpose is to make room for more private boat slips that will generate more income for the county government, which owns and operates the harbor.
She said the new docks would introduce motorized boats to the beach area, which novice sailors would maneuver in and out of the docks. A failed motor would be a "high-risk proposition" for toddlers swimming at Baby Beach, as well as paddlers and boaters, Rhodes added.
Some opponents are also concerned about the possibility of boats leaking oil into Baby Beach's waters, given the proximity of the proposed docks.
Brad Gross, director of OC Dana Point Harbor, the agency that runs the marina, cautioned that officials are "a long ways away" from finalizing the plans.
Gross said the draft environmental impact report describes the "ultimate extreme" of the project for the environmental review process. "There will be ample opportunity" for public comment on the plans, he said.
"What ends up being built is usually different from what the document says," he added.
The project is in a public comment period, which will be followed by a California Coastal Commission review and any appeals by opponents.
The county is proposing the changes as part of an extensive upgrade plan called the Marina Improvement Project, which has been in the works for several years. The draft environmental impact report was released by the county in September and includes a description of the proposed docks beside Baby Beach.
The OC Sailing and Events Center has a row of docks on its east side where four medium-size boats are moored and used for sailing programs by Saddleback College, Westwind Sailing and the Sea Scouts, according to Jim Wehan, president of Sea Scouts of Dana Point.
The draft environmental impact report proposes that those docks be redesignated as private slips and that a new dock be built on the west side of the sailing center to replace them. An illustration in the report shows the new docks extending about 100 feet into the Baby Beach area.
Wehan questions the reasoning behind this reorganization, saying the new dock's slips wouldn't be large enough to house the medium-size educational boats.
"To my knowledge, no one's recommending all this as an improvement of the public use of that center. The only improvement is going to be increased area for private boat slips," he said. The only motivation that makes sense to him, Wehan said, is the county wants to make more money from additional private slips.
The opponents also criticized county officials for making what they said was a major change to the plan without notifying the public before the Draft SEIR was released in September.
Wehan said that at a public meeting earlier this year, the county did not discuss the reorganization of the Sailing and Events Center docks. When he was called by a county official the next day, Wehan added, he asked about the new docks, but the official told him that it was just an alternate proposal at one point and that Wehan didn't have to worry about it being included in the plan.
"They absolutely did everything possible to keep us from being being informed as to what was happening," said Wehan.
Gross said designs for the new docks were discussed last year at a focus group that the public was invited to attend.
When asked about the criticism, Gross said the county's lawyers advised not to discuss the plan's details because the project is in a public comment period and his staff will take public comments into consideration.
"There will continue to be stakeholder input as we move through this process," he said.
The county is accepting written comments on "the adequacy and appropriateness of the Draft SEIR."
Comments should be sent to the OC Dana Point Harbor office, 24650 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, by Nov. 21 at 5 p.m.
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