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Plans to help salvage Capistrano Beach are before the Coastal Commission this week

What’s the best way to save a disappearing beach?

It’s a question one small coastal town has faced in recent years as the seas constantly chomp away at precious sand, and it is a puzzle other coastal communities may face as sea levels rise and erosion shrinks valuable coastlines across the state.

The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday, Dec. 8, will hear a proposal by OC Parks as it tries to find a solution, or at least an interim bandage for the next few years, until it figures out what the long-term future holds for Capistrano Beach in Dana Point.



The county, which manages the beach, has already done emergency repairs removing jagged, broken sidewalk and pieces of parking lot, taking out a busted basketball court and piling big boulders to try and keep the ocean at bay.

Several community meetings have been held to come up with long-term ideas on what should happen along this stretch of coast tucked between Doheny State Beach and San Clemente.

Should parking and infrastructure be sacrificed for more sand space, a “managed retreat” as it’s called by environmental groups?  Just how much should be given to the sea?

They are questions facing not just this area, but other coastal communities up and down California, from San Diego to San Francisco and beyond.

The Capo Beach proposal to be voted on this week asks for after-the-fact approval for some emergency steps already, including removal of  about 55 parking spaces and other amenities like trees, public beach showers, fire pits and light poles that had to be taken out after storms.

The application also seeks approval to install about 870 feet of one-cubic-yard sand cubes, about half of which were already put in as an emergency measure. It also hopes to expand the already 690 feet of rock armor with another 150 feet of boulders.

Surfrider Foundation’s South Orange County chapter wants the commission to deny the application, with concern the seawalls along Capistrano Beach will perpetuate erosion and impact public access along the beach.

“Instead of planning for and enacting long-term solutions, the county has instead chosen to abuse the emergency permit system,” the environmental advocacy group argued in a statement. “The revetments in place have vastly exceeded their intended duration, and are now becoming various forms of pollution. Clearly, the rock revetments haven’t worked in the past, and won’t work now.”

Instead of trying to protect a parking lot – when there’s options along Pacific Coast Highway and nearby Doheny State Beach – the Capistrano lot could be filled in with a “living shoreline” to expand the beach, the group says. “Which would you rather have: A beach to walk and recreate on or a beachfront parking lot next to a seawall and a drowned beach?”

“We ask the commission to deny OC Parks’ proposal and request them to come back to the commission with a plan that protects the beach now – there’s no reason for interim solutions that continue to ‘kick the can down the road’ and continue to use our taxpayer dollars foolishly and needlessly,” reads the statement. “OC Parks’ proposal would perpetuate decades of unpermitted, emergency seawalls and the erosion of Capistrano Beach.”

The area was once so wide it held volleyball courts and a row of fire rings in an area where now the sea slaps onto a row of big boulders put in place to try and save a parking lot and, before the sand was put in, a bike and walking path that ran along the beach.

Walkers and bikers now pass through along the parking lot, with a small swath of sand that has been put in behind the boulders serving as a temporary “beach.”

The county held several community meetings following a series of storms two years ago that demolished a wooden walkway, the popular basketball courts and restrooms, and a section of parking lot and concrete boardwalk.

The damage has been so bad in recent years, car parts that were cemented into the concrete decades ago were exposed and pieces of a once-popular beach club buried under the site are being unearthed.

Between 2004 and 2002, eight emergency permits were issued to OC Parks, six of which were issued in the past five years.

“Historically, Capistrano Beach has experienced large changes in beach width and development onsite has incurred damage due to storm events,” the report on the county’s proposal says. “In recent years beach widths have ranged from zero to approximately 100 feet and the built development onsite is currently vulnerable to wave run up, flooding, and erosion, which is expected to be exacerbated by climate change.”

The short-term fixes will allow OC Parks to come up with a Capistrano Beach Park master plan, to be submitted to the commission for review and approval within the next couple of years.

“The master plan will be based on best available science and informed by public engagement on what types of coastal access and recreational resources are most valued at this location,” the report says.

Source: Orange County Register

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