Capistrano Beach now has something it has been missing for years: Sand.
The sand sits behind a row of boulders, so dipping your toes in the water won’t be especially easy. But it’s a start for the quaint beach, which has been part of a continual discussion about how stakeholders will grapple with rising sea levels and eroding coastlines.
A stretch of beach in Dana Point, south of Doheny State Beach and north of San Clemente, that in recent years has been battered by storms, high tides and strong surf has been transformed in recent weeks and for the first time in months will open to the public, temporarily, for the holiday weekend.
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 the parking lot.
Toni Nelson, founder of local advocacy group Capo Cares, said she is grateful to OC Parks and its acknowledgement of the importance of the county beach to both locals and visitors.
“We all get that our beach is eroding, but the county has a big investment here and an obligation to keep the beach functional and accessible to the public as long as they can without incurring inordinate expense,” she said. “These improvements buy us some time to enjoy the beach until longer term mitigation can be determined.”
Before any long-term projects can be put in place, the California Coastal Commission must sign off on plans. Nelson said she hopes the commission recognizes the beach is worth preserving.
A boardwalk and palm trees lay in the sand below a beach-side basketball court at Capistrano Beach in Dana Point, on Tuesday, Dec 4, 2018. A portion of the beach collapsed following strong surf, high tide and rain and has since been removed. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
“Even a few more years is a good chunk of a childhood and a chance for all of us to enjoy a treasured resource,” she said.
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 most recent big swell in early July again shut down the stretch of beach, with waves hitting with such force they tossed concrete benches and pushed heavy trash cans over and into the parking lot.
Some people believe the area’s challenges offers a glimpse into the future as sea levels rise, pushing the ocean toward homes, roadways and the infrastructure that lines the coast, and how the county moves forward to fix it could serve as a blueprint for other coastal towns facing similar troubles.
Following the storms in 2018, the county put in more temporary boulders to block the sea and set out picnic tables and a few fire rings behind a fence last year for a temporary fix as they figure out what to do with the area.
The sand put in recently was placed to infill areas of damaged pavement, to make a safer and even transition from the beach parking lot on the upper terrace. No sand was placed on the beach, according to Marisa O’Neil, spokeswoman for OC Parks.
“The master plan for long-term improvements is underway. The latest improvements are to make the beach safe and open for public use,” she wrote in an e-mail response.
The county and concerned residents are trying to figure out the right mix of rebuilding and, or, retreating to accommodate the rising seas.
A large vertical seawall topped with a “beach terrace” has been discussed, as has placing boulders to line the beach with a walkway running alongside and a place for volleyball courts, sand games and picnic benches. That area, however, would be at the mercy of waves and big swells and could erode over time.
A third alternative would be an “accommodate and retreat” method, adding pilings such as those at piers along the Southern California coast, allowing water to wash under and eat away at – or add – sand naturally. Amenities such as fire pits and benches would likely be lost over time.
All three plans cut down on parking, which is currently at 85 spots.
Martin Ponce, found strolling the area on Friday morning, hopes visitors will be able to come down this weekend to enjoy the small stretch of beach.
“During the summer, it’s nice to have everyone come in and enjoy the place we live, because it is absolutely beautiful here in Dana Point,” he said. “I know some people don’t want to see the crowds, but they are only here for the weekend. We’re here all year round, let them enjoy it.”
He was glad to see the sand put in place, a bandage for now, to the broken concrete and walkway.
“They have a little more work to do, but they did bring in a lot of fresh sand. They do have a little more beach,” he said. “It’s a change from the rocks down there.”
Beach hours this weekend are from 6 a.m. to sunset through Monday, Sept. 7.
Source: Orange County Register