James Lenthall retired from his positions as president of the Dana Point Boaters Association and chair of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board on Jan. 25.
DANA POINT—James Lenthall has spent the past 15 years advocating for the interests of general boaters as a plan to redevelop Dana Point Harbor has been taken shape. First as an independent citizen, then as a longtime board member of the Dana Point Boaters Association (DPBA) and chair of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board (DPHAB).
From successfully advocating for a scaled back commercial core and preservation of slips, to a recent permit approval for a harbor reconfiguration plan, Lenthall said the advocacy organizations have contributed significantly to shaping the next generation of Dana Point Harbor, an effort he is now passing on to new leadership.
On Jan. 25, Lenthall retired from his positions as president of DPBA and chair of the DPHAB.
“I really see a value in organizations refreshing their leadership to provide new vitality and innovation and strategy to their causes,” said Lenthall, “Sometimes just having new faces at the head of the table invites new conversation.”
Lenthall has been a board member of the DPBA since 2011 and co-founded DPHAB in 2017. DPBA provides a collective voice for boater interests in day-to-day harbor operations and governance and DPHAB does the same for the broader harbor stakeholders. Both have been deeply involved in the conversation about revitalizing the harbor, which was first set-in motion in 1997.
“That would be the biggest challenge or frustration among many people along the way is how long it’s taken,” said Lenthall.
In 2006, he attended his first public forum held by Orange County where plans were presented for the renovation of Dana Point Harbor. He said he attended the meeting out of self-interest, as he was on an 8-to-10-year waitlist for a larger slip in the harbor.
For the first few years Lenthall testified as an independent citizen at California Coastal Commission hearings, Orange County Board of Supervisors meetings, Dana Point City Council, and Planning Commission meetings. What started as self-interest, evolved into helping put a voice to the nearly 3,000 boaters in Dana Point Harbor.
“I started attending these meetings and speaking up and found I had a voice that other people listened to and followed,” said Lenthall.
In 2011, Lenthall was invited to join the DPBA board and was elected its president in 2014.
He said one of the biggest successes over the years was collaborating with the county and city to constrain slip loss, constrain radical differences in the slip mix, and constrain the expansion of the commercial core. That was solidified in a local coastal program amendment issued by the California Coastal Commission in 2009, which restricted slip loss to no more than 155 slips and mandated an average slip size to not exceed 32 feet, as well as constraining the square footage of the commercial core.
“Before that there was wild speculation on, are we going to have a massive expansion of the commercial core? Are we going to have an entertainment hub that looks like Disney Land?” said Lenthall.
He said early plans also included a significant reduction in smaller slips.
“While it was my opinion worthy to look at adjusting the slip to bring a little more parity to those waitlists, some of the early plans called for eliminating all of those small boat slips, which really undermines affordable coastal access,” said Lenthall.
For all the victories, he said there were also moments it felt like everything was going to fall apart. One of those moments came in 2017 when it was announced the county would need to hire a private developer because the county and city did not have the funds for the project.
That same year, Lenthall co-founded the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board, a multidisciplinary group of merchants, boaters, educational and social organizations and other harbor stakeholders, in order to ensure the harbor community continued to have a voice in the redevelopment plans.
Ultimately, Dana Point Harbor Partners was selected as the developer for the project.
“Largely with the boaters association and merchants association support and help, they [Dana Point Harbor Partners] were the selected developer, largely because they brought with them a philosophy of protecting the harbor, collaboration with local stakeholders,” said Lenthall.
He said DPBA spent many hours at a table with Dana Point Harbor Partners collaborating on what marina configuration would work best for traffic flow, safety, slip mix and parking.
In September 2020, the California Coastal Commission approved a permit for Dana Point Harbor Partners’ proposal to install new harbor infrastructure to include 2,254 boat slips (down from 2,409 currently) and to replace 16 commercial fishing slips, 13 yacht club slips (up from 11) and 16 sportfishing charter slips.
“I wanted see that, participate in that, I wanted to get the plans we worked so hard on enshrined in that coastal development permit and we did,” said Lenthall.
He said he believes the harbor is on the best path for a successful future that protects the charm and character that define Dana Point Harbor.
“I’ll look back on this 20 years from now and go wow, that was really cool we got to affect our community in the way we did,” said Lenthall.
While he has retired, he plans to continue to call Dana Point home and intends to remain an active member of the harbor boating community.
Staff note: The online version was updated to fix a spelling mistake/word mix-up.