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LOCAL ELECTIONS / DANA POINT MEASURES C AND D : Voters Want Headlands Coast Kept Clear

November 10, 1994|LEN HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DANA POINT — A $500-million luxury resort planned for a cherished piece of Orange County's coastline was handily defeated in Tuesday's election, largely because of a grass-roots organization that was vastly outspent during the campaign.

The day after Dana Point voters rejected Measure C and Measure D 55% to 45%, some partisans called it a victory for the people. Others chalked it up to poor timing by the developer of the 121-acre Headlands property, one of the last open areas on the county's coast.

Still others suggested the decisive vote mirrored a nationwide trend--a repudiation of government, in this case the small-town City Council that had supported the development plan.

Whatever the case, the Headlands were "saved," in the words of jubilant foes of development who spent only about $6,600 compared to the $180,000 poured into the campaign by the landowners.

Geoffrey Lachner, a local attorney and a member of the Dana Point group Save the Headlands, said Wednesday the Headlands struck a nerve with many voters because it symbolized South County's heavy development and congestion.

Meanwhile, owners of the Headlands were tight-lipped Wednesday about their next step but did not rule out a possible lawsuit.

"It's still private property. We have a constitutional right to use it and we'll be exploring just how those rights can be exercised," said a disappointed Dan Daniels, president of Newport Beach-based M.H. Sherman Co., one of the Headlands' two owners.

The other owner of the Headlands is Chandis Securities Co., a firm that oversees the financial holdings of the Chandler family. Chandis Securities is a major stockholder in Times Mirror Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

"To me, the people of Dana Point lost a lot of opportunities yesterday," Daniels said. "They could have had 40-plus acres of open space at no charge. I don't think they'll be seeing that again."

The development plan included a 400-room hotel and 370 homes and had been crafted over a long series of public hearings before the council approved the plan last April. But residents launched a petition campaign that put Measure C and Measure D on the ballot.

There were two referendums on the ballot because the council had approved the development plan in two separate actions.

Daniels said the plan was caught in a Catch-22 over the hotel, which he and many city residents did not want but was favored by the California Coastal Commission and the council, the two governmental agencies with jurisdiction over the project. The commission demanded a hotel to open the land to the public while the city wanted the bed tax revenues a hotel would bring.

The Save the Headlands group, however, played heavily on the idea that the hotel would generate traffic and bring in hundreds of low-income workers to the city.

"I think the hotel was the No. 1 reason (we lost)," Daniels said.

Also a casualty of the election's outcome was the Dana Point Headlands Conservancy's option to buy seven prime acres of the Headlands--including habitat for the endangered California gnatcatcher and the Pacific pocket mouse. The option hinged on the passage of the two measures.

Besides the seven acres, the landowners had agreed to give the city additional acreage for public parks and hiking trails.

Derith Madden, president of the conservancy, acknowledged Wednesday that the group is in disarray because members include those who also belong to Save the Headlands, which fought against passage of the two measures and criticized the conservancy's board for dealing with the landowners.

"I think everybody needs some time to regroup," Madden said, noting a conservancy event Saturday was canceled because of the discord.

"We woke up this morning and realized we don't have a deal, but that doesn't mean it's all over for us," Madden said. "With or without a deal, we still need to look at that land and purchase it somehow."

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