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Spat Starts After Land Vote

A Dana Point official says a coastal commissioner helped environmentalists.

September 07, 2004|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

The Dana Point city manager and a state coastal commissioner have exchanged heated letters over whether the commissioner overstepped her role in opposing the controversial Headlands development.

At issue is whether Commissioner Sara Wan violated policy and offered advice to environmentalists seeking to derail the development on one of the last undeveloped promontories in Southern California.

The spat offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the Headlands vote in January. The commission voted 7 to 5 -- with Wan opposed -- to approve plans to build 125 custom homes, a 65- to 90-room inn, 40,000 square feet of commercial office space and five public parks. After the vote, the Surfrider Foundation threatened to file a lawsuit blocking the development.

The allegations, Wan said, are false and an "unwarranted, personal attack." She said City Manager Douglas Chotkevys was either misinformed or deliberately attempting to "impugn my integrity."

Chotkevys fired the first missive June 7 to Coastal Commission Chairman Mike Reilly after the city received an e-mail that suggested Wan advised Surfrider about how to proceed with a lawsuit. In his letter, Chotkevys questioned whether it was appropriate for Wan to "leave the dais" to speak to the opposition group.

The e-mail -- sent from Surfrider Foundation member Mike Lewis to foundation attorney Todd Cardiff -- was considered a smoking gun by Chotkevys. The e-mail says Lewis and Chad Nelsen, Surfrider's environmental director, "talked with Sara Wan afterward and received some good advice how to proceed with suit."

Commissioners must publicly disclose all conversations and correspondence from interested parties before a vote is taken, Reilly said. But, he said, "once a hearing is concluded there are no particular requirements as to who they talk to." He said he does not intend to take any action on Chotkevys' claims.

Wan said she didn't speak to members of the public until hours after the vote, nor did she ever give advice. But, she noted in a letter to Chotkevys, "there would have been nothing wrong if I had done so."

Developers, she wrote, were getting equally cozy with commissioners over $200 to $1,500 bottles of wine.

Wan, an environmental activist from Malibu, never hid that she didn't approve of the Headlands project. She argued the project would not be consistent with the Coastal Act.

The Surfrider Foundation has faulted the project because it could result in coastal erosion and the use of a sea wall.

In an interview, Nelsen said Wan only provided "procedural information."

"She has a right to say whatever she wants to," he said. "This demonstrates just how ugly everything has gotten with this project."

The Headlands project is scheduled to go before the Dana Point Planning Commission on Sept. 15.

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