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Voila! A City

July 01, 1988|DANA PARSONS and MARK BOSTER | Times Staff Writer

Colette Fatosme stood atop a grassy hill above the coastline at Dana Point, letting her dog Chiquita run free and availing herself of one of those million-dollar panoramas that are a dime-a-dozen along the south Orange County shore.

Directly below, the hundreds of boats in Dana Point Harbor gave silent testimony to the affluence and pleasure-seeking bent of Southern California. Out on the sea, the late-afternoon sun cast a glistening net over the water as a solitary boat bobbed on the surface like a tiny piece on a giant blue game board. Down to the left, around a horseshoe bend of the coastline, people whiled away the time on the sands off the community of Capistrano Beach.

From this view high on the hill, it is easy to see why Richard Henry Dana fell for this stunning package of cliffs and shoreline when he first saw it in 1835 and described it in his novel "Two Years Before the Mast." Dana liked the coastal coves so much, according to local historian Doris Walker, that he called it "the only romantic spot in California."

But on this sunny day, a century-and-a-half after Dana's visit, the sounds of silence are broken by carpenters' hammers, working on the hull of a house 100 yards behind Fatosme. Since this is Orange County, one presumes the house will be finished and fully furnished before the sun sets.

"When we came here three years ago, it was quiet and nice," Fatosme said, surveying the expanse of housing that an inland view affords. "That's what I liked. Suddenly, all this development. Look at those houses. They're packed in like chicken boxes. It's scary."

Welcome to Dana Point, a one-time hideaway but now a city-in-waiting.

Next January, Dana Point will drape one arm around Capistrano Beach down the coast and another around a large chunk of Laguna Niguel up the coast and, voila, Orange County's newest city will be open for business--the result of an overwhelming 80% cityhood vote June 7. The three areas will merge into one city of about 26,000 residents, with Dana Point supplying about 60% of the start-up population.

From birth, this tripartite city-by-the-sea will be one of Orange County's wealthiest, says Harry Weinroth, a San Juan Capistrano financial consultant hired by the civic group that pushed incorporation. It will be a city that caters to the tourist trade, studded now with the Dana Point Resort in Dana Point and with the centerpiece Ritz-Carlton along coastal Laguna Niguel, and augmented by Dana Point Harbor as another magnet for out-of-towners.

Mike Eggers, one of the newly elected city councilmen, said preliminary projections indicate that the city will have a $3-million surplus its first year. To translate that to workaday politics, Eggers noted, for example, that a recent study indicated it would cost $700,000 to upgrade the roads within the new city. "A lot of cities would have to do a five-year project to pay for something like that," he said. And while there is no formal budget yet, he noted, "Our first year shows us spending $500,000 on roads."

But what remains to be seen is whether Dana Point, which was a state of mind long before it dreamed of becoming a city, will retain its charm. For despite its scenic beauty, Dana Point never got the attention that Newport Beach or Laguna Beach got--and no one minded. Sure, it has its own celebrity--but it's not Jack Nicholson; it's Alan Young of TV's "Mr. Ed" fame.

For a long time, no one cared if Dana Point was slow in getting telephones or if TV reception was a little fuzzy. And local people even talked with a certain amount of affection for "The Pits," a neighborhood of low-rent, high-density apartments that will never get confused with Three Arch Bay farther up the coast.

"Nobody really thought of it as a city," Walker said. "People still say, 'A city? Dana Point?' "

Complicating things for the new city's identity is that it will, in essence, be three cities in one. From the Pits to the Ritz--it will be a true hybrid.

Eggers said the council, which includes three Dana Point residents and two from the coastal Laguna Niguel area, is aware of the new city's unique situation.

"The one thing everybody is most concerned about is how three distinct communities will merge in a new city," Eggers said. The answer, he said, is that no one will force the issue. "I don't see the city of Dana Point being a melting pot where we lose the identity of the three areas. I think you'll see the three areas working together in harmony but each fighting fairly hard to maintain their identity and individual heritage. I don't think you have to have a city where everyone marches to the same drummer."

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