Dana Point

It’s a matter of political correctness to gush over Dana Point. I’ve never been politically correct when it comes to Orange County community standards and I will say that if you want to know what is wrong with Orange County, go to Dana Point.

Oh, but you say, the Harbor!

Yes, let’s talk about the Harbor. Or rather, let’s talk about the precious natural and historic landmark that was lost when they dammed the cove with a a spiny back breakwater no self-respecting reptile would wear. I am one who remembers how wonderful Dana Point was before the yacht harbor: the tidepools, the broad open meadows, the cliffs which rose unimpeded, and the waves which brought surfers from all over the world. Dana Point was isolated, apart from the Los Angeles/Anaheim sprawl that slopped into the northwest corner of the Orange and across to San Bernardino. It was silent, free of strip malls. A small town that could have been a second Laguna Beach as Laguna Beach was before the yuppies drove the artists into the hinterlands, the deep canyons around the Saddleback.

You have probably seen the bumper stickers which say KILLER DANA. That is a reference to what was and what the Orange County Supervisors and the developers killed, largely without oversight from the state or the people who loved her beaches. Killer Dana refers to the legendary surfing waves that the breakwater slices. It stands for the memory and the revolution that followed. After the Dana Point Marina fiasco, people across the state stood up and voted the Coastal Commission into existence so that no one would seize a thing of beauty and destroy it ever again.

That is Dana Point’s one good legacy.

I went for a walk in Dana Point yesterday, seeking geocaches. We started at a large open lot which you pass just before entering the town proper. The city had an opportunity. To save this headland as a park. It passed up on the chance. The realtors and developers, praying for the day when the Coastal Commission won’t be around to prevent them from scraping off the lemonade berry bushes, stopped the project.

The day is coming when the historic headland where Boston sailors threw the hides from the cliff in Two Years Before the Mast becomes just another crowded, gated community, a slop of condominiums rendered in a baby blue faux New England style with none of the prayerful quiet of the seaside towns which inspired them. This is why Dana Point councilpeople blocked the park. They are holding it, not for the community, but for a few wealthy contributors and, perhaps, themselves.

Walking down the streets of Dana Point, I saw the following:

  • The Bush Cheney Headquarters in a strip mall next to the lost park
  • A gigantic off road monster painted a froggy green, calling itself an Offroad Outlaw, and sporting an iron cross because the owner didn’t want to shock his neighbors with a swastika.
  • A realtor talking loudly about how our recession isn’t the fault of Bush but only a cycle. “Every fifteen years,” he shouted at a pair of potential buyers, “every fifteen years, the S&P dips.” So it isn’t Bush’s fault. But he never asks the next question: If it is just a cycle — something beyond human control — why do you have to have Bush?
  • A man whining into a cell phone while sitting inside a silver Volvo SUV, going on and on: “No matter what I do, it isn’t enough.”
  • People sipping cocktails on their deck overlooking the so-called “Drogher Trail”, enjoying the view and oblivious to the fact that their development is built on sandstone, the very kind of crumbling cliff which state park rangers warn beachgoers against up and down the coast. Perhaps they don’t care. Perhaps they look forward to the insurance which will allow them to buy a house a few feet back where they can repeat the process again.

The jagged teeth of condominiums and the squared off breakwater are what anger me most about Dana Point. This should have been set aside for the people as a state park or a National Historic Site interpreting the meeting of our Californio cattlemen and Yankee Clipper heritages. The creators of Dana Point don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves, about the money flowing in, and the tractors they use to plow under the last vestiges of the real California that still stand within their city bounds.

The Ocean Institute with its wooden ships, classrooms, and sea-sickness monument stands as a feeble testament to this past, this once untrampled landscape. When I see it and I see the sea creatures confined to glass bathtubs, I see how the wealthy and the rich of Dana Point want their nature and want other people: confined and controlled.

Long after the United States goes the way of all empires and the human species goes extinct, the remnants of the breakwater shall still strangle the Killer Dana. Who knows what will evolve to live in our ruins, in the trashpile of beer bottles and cans lining the bottom of the harbor. Anyone who does not believe that mere humans can change the environment for the worse should walk past the strip malls Pacific Coast Highway of Dana Point and then go for a dive in the harbor.

To visit Dana Point with a mind attuned to the environment and social justice is to enter a room of screams and paint flooding from the walls. I first visited Dana Point when the cove was open. I remember the tidepools — recognized as the best in Southern California — and the strange creatures that scuba divers brought to the surface.

A few years later, I went back with a college geology class to see the remnants of an ancient river next to the Ocean Institute. I walked along the Marina, staring at the boats that smacked their waterlines. A girl in the class asked me what was on my mind. I told her about how beautiful the cove had been once and how ugly it seemed to me now. What once had been open and spacious was now crowded, cramped.

“Why can’t you just enjoy the sunshine and the water?” she said.

How can one enjoy an amputation?

The people of Dana Point just don’t look. Just like they don’t look at the unemployed, the sick, or the wounded and dead from Mr. Bush’s war.

1 Comment so far

  1. diana/windblown (unregistered) on October 14th, 2004 @ 11:32 am

    Being both a sailor and an environmentalist, I acknowledge the conflicts created by developing our coastal and other recreation areas, not to mention hundreds of miles of residential and business developments. Every harbor on the planet has destroyed something in the name of progress. Every development, whether on the Dana headlands, or in the foothills of the Santa Ana mountains have damaged our natural beauty and availability of open spaces, replacing them with human habitats, transportation corridors and income earning options.

    Unfortunately, too many people want to live here. I lived here 50 years ago when most of Fountain Valley, Westminster and surrounding communities between Anaheim and the beach were open and agricultural areas, orange trees surrounded by eucalyptus windbreaks (also foreign invaders, by the way) could be seen everywhere and urban runoff was not destroying our ocean environment like it is now. Who do we trust to decide which choice benefits the most people, with the minimal negative impact on the environment? Everyone has their bias…whether it is the hikers who deride the cyclists for intruding into our peaceful hiking trails, or the surfers for the loss of prime surf spots. Whose rights take precedence…perhaps closing the borders to California may be the only solution for the future.

    Many benefit from recreational areas, whether hiking trails through Whiting Ranch or marinas that offer myriad water related activities to thousands every year. Hopefully, with each new development we learn a little more about how to peacefully co-exist and create living and playing space with more respect for the land, sea and creatures that inhabit them. Find an organization to support, whether Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club or O.C. Coastkeepers, just get informed and voice your opinion, and perhaps we can create some positive leverage to balance the money interests that abound here, as well as provide valid options for recreation for all the diversity here in O.C.

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