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Fans of Baby Beach hope to halt plans to change it

Orange County wants to expand the aging marina at Dana Point. Opponents say the project threatens to degrade the recreation site, a popular area for families.

November 27, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times
  • A couple launch their kayak at Baby Beach in the Dana Point Harbor, where a planned revamp would alter the popular Baby Beach, local activists say.
A couple launch their kayak at Baby Beach in the Dana Point Harbor, where… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

On a waterfront crowded with docks, restaurants and tourist shops, Baby Beach is a mellow haven.

Families and school groups regularly crowd onto the tiny, sheltered beach, where children can safely splash in a nearly wave-free swimming area sandwiched between the Ocean Institute and Dana Point Harbor. Kayakers and stand-up paddlers relish the beach as a calm, easy launching spot.

But all that could be at risk.

Orange County is proposing to build docks in front of the strand as part of its effort to revitalize the aging marina in the harbor. The new docks would be west of the OC Sailing & Events Center, freeing up space to the east for larger vessels — a growing trend in the boating world.

The long-rumored changes were made public in September with the release of an environmental report that disclosed that the county's Harbor Revitalization Plan could require the swimming and launch area be moved 50 feet to the west.

Opponents, who have organized as the Save Baby Beach Coalition, say the plan would eliminate one-fifth of the usable beachfront, moving sailboats, powerboats and a septic waste pump-out station too close to one of the area's only family-friendly swimming spots. The design "curtails public access, impacts the environment, and diminishes the enjoyment of the recreational area at Baby Beach," the group wrote this month in a letter to the county signed by more than 500 people.

The group is not opposed to the harbor overhaul, said organizer Paul Sampedro, a stand-up paddle-boarder from Dana Point, only its encroachment on the beach.

"There's a reason why it's called Baby Beach," Sampedro said. "So this should not come at the expense of children and families, public access and the environment. It should not restrict the people's rights to recreation."

County officials stressed that approval is a long way off.

"Final design can be adjusted based on public comment," Brad Gross, director of OC Dana Point Harbor, wrote in an email to The Times. Until the state Coastal Commission approves the permits and the project is financed, nothing is final, Gross said.

The revitalization plan would rebuild much of the 40-year-old marina and its deteriorating docks and facilities. The harbor's boat slips would be reduced by 16, to 2,293, many designed to accommodate bulkier vessels.

Similar tensions are playing out as harbors along the California coast seek to modernize and build larger slips. In Los Angeles County's Marina del Rey, built in the 1960s, local small-boating activists contend that redevelopment favors owners of large yachts and restricts opportunities for people with more modest boats.

Dana Point Harbor also dates from the '60s, it's construction famously destroying what had been one of Southern California's most renowned surf breaks, Killer Dana.

The pro-Baby Beach paddlers and casual swimmers from Orange County and beyond, who include surf pioneer (and latter-day paddle-boarder) Mickey Muñoz of Capistrano Beach, say they have a chance to prevent one of the only postage stamps of beachfront left in the harbor area from getting any smaller.

The county has several months to respond to concerns about the project, including dozens, perhaps hundreds, of letters from community members who would like to see Baby Beach stay as it is.

"We intend to follow this project closely," Sampedro said, "until we confirm that any development that impacts public access and the environment at Baby Beach has been spared."

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