Urban Edginess

Where the City Meets its Future.

Month: February, 2018

California WaterfrontAge: Urban Coastal Design — Dana Point and Oceanside.


This is the third post of a series in Urban Edginess in which I reproduce a column I had written in a magazine entitled WaterfrontAge published 40 years or so ago by the California State Coastal Conservancy of which I was the Executive Officer at the time. In my prior two posts, I introduced the magazine and its goals, and the concept of urban waterfront design and its difference from more rural coastal protection.

Here, I discuss two specific urban waterfronts. As can be seen in the recent aerial photograph of Dana Point below my optimism as to future development seems misplaced as the two small green swatches labeled Heritage Park and Lantern Bay Park the open space and parkland we required and helped improve so long ago as models for good urban waterfront design have been scarcely replicated. Nevertheless, the photograph of these coastal bluff top open space and recreational areas demonstrate the wisdom of our approach. Imagine what this would have been like if we had not intervened.


Dana Point.


THROUGHOUT THE years I have effectively have been involved in coastal management, I have constantly been struck by how an otherwise commonplace waterfront development can be transformed through the inclusion of public access, both visual and physical. While the land developer’s three basic rules for successful development are location, location, and location, the rules for the public governing the shoreline should be access, access, and more access. Unfortunately, the land developer’s locational requirements and the agency’s access requirements are often considered incompatible. But on the waterfront, private development and public access can work to enhance each other. In urban waterfront design, the rule of access has a powerful effect on the rule of location. On a site near the ocean, for example, if the ocean view is blocked or if the people using the site can’t reach the beach safely and easily, then the site’s proximity to the water is of little value to developers.


Lantern Bay Park Dana Point,


In California, some recent developments have integrated location and access with, I believe, spectacular results. I would like to describe two of these.

Lantern Bay Park.


Above Dana Point Harbor in Orange County rises a sheer bluff. A small coastal canyon splits the face of the bluff and the property behind in two. Some time ago, a developer carved terraces in the bluff to get the fill for the harbor; the bluff now looks like a giant amphitheater facing the harbor. Despite the radical grading, the bluff remains unparalleled for viewing part of the southern California coastline, which could rival the Amalfi coast.


Lantern Bay Park and The Coast of California.


The owner of the property originally intended to build single-family housing on the terraces up the bluff. This would have made the site unusable to the public. Following a long struggle with the California Coastal Commission, the developer agreed to set back the housing well behind the bluff edge on the half of the property upcoast of the canyon; on the downcoast half, he agreed to build a large park and hotel complex. On the upcoast section of the bluff, the developer has constructed a magnificent series of viewing rings connected by a sinuous path winding down from terrace to terrace. The viewing platforms resemble nothing else that I have seen in their extravagant celebration of public access. If one stands on the topmost viewing area, one can see the wide arc of the coast stretching to the south as well as the pathway crossing the canyon and snaking up into the still uncompleted park downcoast. An elegant iron fence separates the viewing terraces from the building pads behind the bluff, which are prepared to take what will certainly be expensive housing. Townhouses and other structures already completed on other portions of the property provide an almost Mediterranean flavor to the area.

Lantern Bay Park,


The variety of style and type in the cosmopolitan collection contrasts markedly with the Visually uninteresting development similar in the area surrounding this property. Further north, in Dana Point, access requirements imposed by the Coastal Commission have reshaped what promises to be another notable coastal development. Already, one of the most elegant hotels in California sits on a spectacular bluff. The original developers wanted to build housing there instead, but the Coastal Commission demanded that the oceanfront property be devoted to visitor-serving development. The irony is especially sharp because the hotel promises to elevate the rest of the development into the sort of resort community developers love.


Hotel at Lantern Bay Park, Dana Point.

Dana Point is growing into what some have called the California Riviera. In this case, access requirements benefited not only the people of the state but also the community of Dana Point and ultimately those who own property there.


View of Heritage Park, Dana Point.


In the community of Oceanside, in San Diego County, a much different urban waterfront project is going forward, though it too shows the advantages of integrating public access with private development. Instead of responding to development pressures, as in Dana Point, Oceanside plans to create an urban waterfront that will encourage new development. The City expects its waterfront to benefit physically and economically. Oceanside became interested in the project because its waterfront was badly deteriorated and economically depressed. The city wanted to investigate the commercial potential of the beach, which was not being realized. The first plan which the City Redevelopment Agency prepared focused on the residential and commercial uses of the waterfront property. However, some of the city’s residents were against the massive development proposed, and the Coastal Commission was bothered by the lack of open space, inadequate public access, and problems with traffic and circulation.

Oceanside Strand.
The Coastal Conservancy was called in to develop a program with the city that would resolve these conflicts. After conducting extensive economic analyses, a series of citizen workshops, and a design competition, the Conservancy produced a plan that met most of the objections.


Children’s Playground, Oceanside Strand.


The final plan approved by the city of Oceanside embarked on an extensive restoration effort. One part of the plan seeks to increase the usefulness and the value of Oceanside’s waterfront by converting a solid block of developed beachfront into a public park, called the Strand Park. As in Dana Point, the park would offer public access close to the commercial and residential development.


View of  Bluffs and Children’s Playground.


As it happened, however, one large parcel of property in the designated block, containing an old apartment building, was too expensive to buy easily. The difficulty this presented was resolved when the new owners, an investment group, made it clear that they intended to rehabilitate the building in a manner consistent with the city’s plans.


Oceanside Strand.


The city of Oceanside and the Coastal Commission have approved this change in the plan, and Strand Park will be designed around the new development. The Conservancy has loaned the city $900,000 to create the park. The requirement of visual and physical
access has not, in the Oceanside project, prevented development. On the contrary, the expensive renovation that this investment group is planning would have been unlikely and certainly would have been less profitable if the City hadn’t been working to enhance the waterfront area as a whole.


Oceanside Beach and Pier at Sundown.


In addition to these economic benefits, the project has brought Oceanside some less expected rewards. The Oceanside Strand Restoration Study received a Meritorious Program Award from the California Chapter of the American Planning Association and a citation for an “outstanding contribution in design” from the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.


Oceanside Strand.


In the two very different projects at Oceanside and Dana Point, the rule of access manages to serve both art and commerce and to offer substantial rewards to the public at large, to the waterfront community, and to the private developer.


Note: This entire issue of California WaterfrontAge can be found at: http://scc.ca.gov/webmaster/coast_ocean_archives/0101.pdf




California WaterfrontAge: Beginning.

California WaterfrontAge was a magazine first published by California’s  State Coastal Conservancy about 40 years ago during the time I served as director of the then-new agency. The purpose of the magazine was to introduce the general public to the benefits of reclaiming for the public the nation’s urban waterfronts that forty years ago had been in a sad state of decline. New approaches toward to reverse that decay recently had been initiated in several of the nation’s cities and the State Coastal Conservancy just had been created to provide the leadership for these endeavors in California   In a prior post in Urban Edginess, I reproduced an article I had written in California WaterfrontAge about some of these projects and programs. The following is my introductory column to the first issue of that magazine.

At the beginning of any new endev­or, It Is appropriate to set out Its goals and ambitions. What we in the Conservancy hope to accomplish with the publication of this magazine is a focusing of attention upon the public benefits of sound innovative design in the renewal of our urban waterfront resources.

The name of this magazine-California WaterfrontAge-was deliberately chosen to highlight that this indeed is the “waterfront age.” After a tremendous initial growth followed by a long, slow decline, the waterfronts of our nation are now experiencing profound changes and revitalization. In almost every city with a waterfront, the old industrial and commercial uses are giving way to new recreational and living environments.

In Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and a host of other cities, new commercial tourist attractions have either sprung up or are planned. “Festival Market Places” they are often called, and indeed they are. In other cities, parks and attractions along the waterfront designed to delight both resident and visitor have flourished. In San Antonio and Denver, for example, once-neglected riverways have been transformed into ribbons of parks and trails winding their way through the heart of the city.

San Antonio Riverwalk 2

San Antonio Riverwalk.

In creating the “Urban ‘Waterfront Restoration Act of 1981,” the California state legislature stated: California’s urban waterfronts, being often the first part of an urban area to develop and. thus. the first to decay. are in need of restoration in order to be the vital economic and cultural component of the community which they once were.

A state agency, the State Coastal Conservancy, was designated as the agency to coordinate the activities of all other state agencies and all federal agencies that have programs affecting California’s urban waterfronts in order to increase the efficiency and minimize duplication of those programs.” By encouraging sound planning and design and awarding grants for the development of accessways, piers, and other amenities, the

Conservancy has become a major influence in California’s changing urban waterfront scene. More recently the Conservancy, along with the new California Urban Waterfront Area Restoration Financing Authority, has been authorized to provide $650 million in revenue bonds for the restoration of California’s urban waterfronts.

Over $15 million in grants in more than twenty jurisdictions have been awarded by the Conservancy for projects with a direct value of over S100 million and indirect benefits amounting to many times more.

In all cases, the Conservancy has sought to promote waterfront designs which were simple and intuitively understandable, economically feasible. easily accessible. Visually pleasing, and encouraging to those uses dependent upon a location near the water.

First among these values is accessibility. People will travel farther to get to the shore or to a beach than to other recreational destinations. The accommodation of this attraction is a major goal of urban shoreline planning. In the urban waterfront more than anywhere else, the variety of uses, as well as their availability, are the standard against which success must be measured.


Santa Monica Pier (A State Coastal Conservancy Project).

In Long Beach. the vast range of shorefront uses available to almost everyone more than offsets the clumsy grandiosity of the design. That great accessibility was due in large part to the fortunate coming together of a sensitive city planning director and ‘a state regulatory agency-the California Coastal Commission-determined to require maximum public access.


Long Beach.

It is the goal of this magazine to highlight those projects and techniques throughout the West which demonstrate these design goals, and which present a vision of the usefulness of urban waterfront restoration and the most effective strategies for achieving it. This column is the first of a series. In future issues, we will attempt to set out some general standards for urban waterfront improvement, as well as offer critiques of specific waterfront programs past and present. We hope you enjoy
California WaterfrontAge!


Arcata Marsh (A State Coastal Conservancy Project).


Note: This entire issue of California WaterfrontAge can be found at: http://scc.ca.gov/webmaster/coast_ocean_archives/0101.pdf

WaterfrontAge: The Urban Waterfront — Morro Bay and Arbroath.

Over 40 years ago, I helped draft the California Coastal Plan. Among the elements of that plan was the Government, Planning and Powers element that I authored and from which the structure of the massive California Coastal Program was drafted into several separate pieces of Legislation including: the creation of the California Coastal Commission to regulate new development along California’s 1500 mile coast; a 300 million dollar bond act to begin purchasing those recreational and environmental lands of irreplaceable value and; the creation of a novel agency the State Coastal Conservancy whose job it was to facilitate the purchase of lands needed for planning purposes (e.g. buffer  areas for coastal cities, consolidation of unbuilt out subdivisions and the like), restoration of coastal reasources threatened or degraded by pre-existing development, urban waterfront restoration, public access and coastal dependant agriculture preservation.

Shortly after the passage of the legislation in 1976, I became the first executive officer of the Slate Coastal Conservancy. During my tenure, the Conservancy published a magazine entitled “WaterfrontAge.”  It was focused primarily upon the urban waterfront, the use of land acquisitions to control the spread of urban development into existing undeveloped areas along the shoreline and general resource restoration initiatives.

After I left the Conservancy the magazine’s name was changed to “Coast and Ocean.” It’s focus was shifted from the urban environment to the rural environment. This change reflects the tension among those involved in coastal matters between two points of view. Ther are those who believed the emphasis should be on controlling the spread of existing urban development onto highly valuable resource and open space areas and to provide for those urban amenities that would encourage people to want to remain or resettle in those urban areas.(e.g. parks, recreation, visitor-serving uses.) On the other side, there are those who believe that government’s role should be focused primarily upon preventing development wherever it does not currently exist.  Of course, there are those who believe a government should not be involved at all in the business of protecting resources and regulating industrial, commercial and residential development.

Recently, while wandering through the internet, I came upon a copy of the third issue of “WaterfrontAge” from about 35 years ago. In it was my introduction to the issue. I thought it would be interesting to re-published it here to see how well it has aged.


I BELIEVE there are two primary elements that reappear in the urban waterfronts we consider exciting and attractive. The first element is a cluster of activities that require a waterfront location — recreational uses such as bathing or boating; commercial uses like fishing, cruise-ship berthing, boat haul-out facilities, and port operations; and environmental uses such as the wildlife sanctuary described in the previous issue of WaterfrontAge. The second element is public access: whether achieved by paths, boardwalks, or promenades, public access adds to the vitality and color of the area and certainly improves the overall value of the waterfront location, both for the public served and for the commercial ventures nearby. The variety of uses on the waterfront-sometimes in startling juxtaposition-attracts a variety of visitors. and public access increases the force of that attraction. However, it seems that these two requirements, access and water-related uses, must exist together to guarantee a lively waterfront.

In addition to these primary elements, the waterfront should provide activities for their support such as boat repair facilities, chandleries, bait shops, restaurants, and even hotels. Beyond this the normal city uses and densities are appropriate.

In my travels, I have found this pattern of waterfront development remarkably consistent in both recreational and working waterfronts. In particular, in Scotland, I happened upon a small fishing Village on the east coast called Arbroath. Its harbor. encircled by walkways and old stone breakwaters, teems with activity; recreational and fishing boats jostle one another; people strolling stop to watch the fishing boats unloading and processing their catch or to watch the fish being smoked. Restaurants, inns, and shops line the streets nearby and overlook the harbor, and the houses of residents peek out over the scene.



Adjacent to all this activity, a small rocky beach is crowded with bathers. But surprisingly, a few hundred yards away and still visible from the harbor, there is a wide sandy beach, backed by a handsome promenade and an empty grassy slope. The beach and its park are often deserted, in marked contrast to the busy harbor area. The contrast suggests a connection between the harbor’s development and its appeal; unlike the solitary beach. the harbor provides facilities, for a variety of activities as well as simple access.


Arbroath and other well-known waterfront cities arrived at this pattern of development by trial and error. The pressures of competing uses on the waterfront led to the development of a variety of different industries side- by side. In addition. certain industries. such as fishing, boating and lodging enforced the need for public access to the waterfront.
Recently, the State Coastal Conservancy’ has embarked on a number of projects that seek to help establish this pattern in some of California’s urban waterfronts.

In Morro Bay. a small town in San Luis Obispo County. our application of these elements is nearing completion. The Conservancy has had a tremendous influence on Morro Bay’s waterfront.The area is particularly suitable for the Conservancy’s projects because it has
remained largely undeveloped, and our projects can influence the shape of future
development. We decided that it was inappropriate and unnecessary to attempt to redevelop the area so we decided instead to anticipate future growth and provide the structural elements around which the waterfront could develop as the city of Morro Bay grows.


This meant that our projects aimed to manipulate the existing development pressures
into patterns which would guarantee the long-term health of the waterfront as well as provide public amenities.

The Embarcadero had become crowded with commercial uses which had come to exclude other uses. Our first project was to open the area to public use by planning two public parks at either end of the Embarcadero. From the Embarcadero, the view of Morro Bay’s striking harbor had been gradually cut off by restaurants built over the water on pilings. Ironically, the commercial value of the view had led to the development that threatened that very view, one of the major tourist attractions of the area. One Conservancy project extends viewing platforms from the streets that end at the harbor’s edge; these platforms also provide physical access to the harbor by including ramps leading down to floating docks. The docks are to be used by visiting boaters, who would be able to dock there and visit the city’s restaurants and shops. This improved access has created considerable interest among private developers, who see a likely market for visiting boaters.

The local commercial fishing industry. containing the largest active fleet in southern California was enhanced by a Conservancy grant for a new commercial fishing pier for tying up fishing boats and unloading the catch. By ordinance, the commercial fishing fleet on the northern end of the Embarcadero is protected from the pressures of lucrative visitor-serving development. However, the city administrator at Morro Bay, Gary Napper, considers the fishing fleet’s activities a major tourist attraction. Visitors come to the pier especially to watch the fish scooped from the boats the dropped in a cascade into the carts on the docks on their way to the nearby processing plant. The push to diversify the uses of the waterfront has included recent plans to make a major fish-processing plant stretching from downtown to the Embarcadero itself, which should improve the quality of that product and provide an interesting fixture for tourists to visit.
Most recently, the initial steps have been taken to provide some public financing for the construction of two hotels to support the rehabilitation of Morro Bay’s waterfront. In contrast to this large-scale commercial development, part of the Conservancy’s program at Morro Bay has been the restoration and preservation of the extensive dune areas north of the town center.

Mayor Bud Zeuchner considers the economics of the waterfront’s development secondary to the need to preserve the aesthetic value of the setting, which is considerable. He believes that the Conservancy’s projects have successfully combined the conflicting pressures (to develop commerce, to preserve natural beauty, to encourage tourism) into a compatible system. The final product, he anticipates, will be a waterfront where water and land both meet the people and meet the people’s needs. The comprehensive plan which embraces Morro Bay’s waterfront does not allow anyone use to intrude on any other, yet still encourages a great variety of water-dependent uses of the waterfront.

Every effort has been made to pattern Morro Bay’s waterfront after the liveliest urban waterfronts, like that at Arbroath. The Conservancy’s projects have sought to combine commercial, recreational, and environmental elements of water-dependent activity. to juxtapose these uses for more efficiency and interest, and to provide sufficient access to the waterfront to encourage visitors.

Although it remains to be seen if Morro Bay’s waterfront. which is bound to grow, develops into the lively and productive setting we find in the world’s most successful waterfronts, I think a good start has been made.


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