‘Piece of par­adise’ erod­ing

Capis­trano Beach lovers and of­fi­cials work to save a swath of the O.C. coast.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Anh Do

Walk­ing along a bat­tered stretch of her beloved beach, Sandie Iver­son ticked off the de­struc­tion from re­cent storms. The board­walk and a sea­wall col­lapsed. Palm trees were ripped from their roots.

As win­ter rains de­scend on South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Iver­son couldn’t help but won­der what fresh calamity would be­fall small but pic­turesque Capis­trano Beach.

“When this crazy weather ends, will we still have bas­ket­ball courts?” the 70year-old asked, as ex­ca­va­tors con­tin­ued clear­ing de­bris this week.

“Capo Beach” lies on the south­ern end of Dana Point and is jointly owned by the city, Orange County Parks and the state. It is bor­dered by Do­heny State Beach to the north and San Cle­mente to the south. Its shim­mer­ing wa­ter, spread be­low jagged cliffs, and an air of tran­quil­ity beckon peo­ple who call it a jewel.

But Capis­trano Beach has been in­creas­ingly chipped away at by storms — as well as ris­ing sea lev­els. Last week’s heavy rain­fall eroded enough of the beach to ex­pose the re­mains of old cars em­bed­ded in boul­ders filled with ce­ment as part of a sea­wall built decades ear­lier. This week’s thun­der­storms forced crews to haul 1,000 tons of large rocks to Capis­trano Beach, lin­ing them up as a bul­wark to pro­tect pop­u­lar bas­ket­ball courts from dis­ap­pear­ing into the ocean. Bath­rooms al­ready are closed, but these same rocks should help “keep them and the land un­der them from drift­ing away,” said Bill Reiter, parks divi­sion man­ager at Orange County Parks.

“We’ve been try­ing to pull out bits and pieces of the board­walk — get that un­der control,” he said. “But some­times, the tide and surf are too high. We have to play the

wait­ing game, but this beach has be­come a pri­or­ity based on the dam­age we’ve wit­nessed.”

Reiter grew up in Orange County and dis­cov­ered Capo Beach in the early 1990s, when he started his job at the agency.

“It’s a cool lit­tle beach. I like it be­cause it re­ally is quiet,” he said. “You don’t get the mas­sive crowds like at other places. Crowds go to big­ger, fancy beaches, but here, you can have your own space.”

Reiter and his South Coastal Op­er­a­tions staff mon­i­tor the Capo Cares Face­book page, a com­mu­nity co-founded by Toni Nel­son. Res­i­dents are sup­port­ing the county, which has con­tacted the Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Com­mis­sion to file for an emer­gency per­mit to sta­bi­lize parts of the beach with riprap — loose stone used to form a rock wall.

Spokes­woman Noaki Schwartz said the com­mis­sion­ers “re­ceived an emer­gency per­mit re­quest from the county for sand cubes and rock, and are cur­rently work­ing with them on the best so­lu­tion for the short­term emer­gency pro­tec­tion in the area.”

County of­fi­cials will need to fol­low up with a plan to tackle the sit­u­a­tion in the short and long terms, and the com­mis­sion and the city will be re­view­ing that plan, she added.

Nel­son and Iver­son ex­er­cise their dogs three times a week at Capis­trano Beach. Nel­son said she hopes the com­mis­sion “truly un­der­stands what this piece of par­adise means to us. We want them to ex­pe­dite the per­mits to make re­pairs and save our beach for an­other 10, 20 years — per­haps be­fore Mother Na­ture again in­ter­feres.”

Res­i­dents and tourists lament not just the threat of ris­ing sea lev­els, but the loss of op­por­tu­nity to make more me­mories for their fam­i­lies in one of the most stun­ning spots in the county. Iver­son, photo ar­chiv­ist for the Dana Point His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, held a pic­ture of the Capis­trano Beach Club and its Olympic-size swim­ming pool from the 1960s, show­ing its hey­day when club mem­bers gath­ered for fresh seafood buf­fets and danc­ing.

Along Beach Road, mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar homes now oc­cupy the sand near the old com­plex, but through the years, “mile­stones hap­pened on this beach,” Iver­son said. For a long time, Capo “pro­vided an eco­nom­i­cal way for peo­ple to go to the beach with­out hav­ing to pay for park­ing.”

Last year, the num­ber of vis­i­tors to Capo reached nearly 500,000, based on park­ing data, com­pared with nearly 2.5 mil­lion at neigh­bor­ing Salt Creek Beach, also run by OC Parks and nes­tled next to the Ritz­Carl­ton La­guna Niguel ho­tel.

Va­ca­tioner Sami Al­varez, who has cousins in San Cle­mente and vis­its them ev­ery few years, al­ways squeezes in a stop at Capo. He de­scribed it as “a fun, pocket beach. It’s like an es­cape. I’m not into the larger places, and I wouldn’t miss this be­cause it’s ideal for med­i­ta­tion.” Nel­son would agree. “You re­ally can’t put a value on just be­ing able to sit at the beach and think or dream or be with the ones you love,” she said. “So many peo­ple have raised their fam­i­lies here that it’s heartbreaking to imag­ine that it could be gone. But that will even­tu­ally hap­pen. What the ocean gives, it takes away.”

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

CAPIS­TRANO BEACH has been chipped away at by storms and ris­ing sea lev­els. This week’s thun­der­storms forced crews to use tons of rocks as a bul­wark to pro­tect bas­ket­ball courts from dis­ap­pear­ing into the ocean.

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

A PHOTO shows the Capis­trano Beach Club from the 1970s against the back­drop of the beach to­day. An O.C. parks of­fi­cial says, “We’ve been try­ing to pull out bits and pieces of the board­walk — get that un­der control.”

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