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Residents fear losing Capistrano Beach as storms chip away at their 'piece of paradise'

Anh Do, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

DANA POINT, Calif. -- 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 alight 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 70-year-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. Bordered by Doheny State Beach to the north and San Clemente to the south, its shimmering water, spread below jagged cliffs, as well as an air of tranquility beckon people who call it a jewel.

But Capistrano Beach has been increasingly chipped away at by recent and past storms -- as well as rising seal 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 O.C. Parks.

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"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 damages 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.

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