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Mayor: Dana Point future tied to tourism, being ‘green'
Dana Point has begun to embrace its identity as a tourist town while adopting environmental policies to encourage ecotourism, Mayor Lara Anderson said in her State of the City address Thursday afternoon at the Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa.
Past resistance to embracing tourism has been replaced by enthusiasm for the new opportunities and revenue sources the industry brings, Anderson said.
"Let's face it, we're a tourism town," Anderson said.
More than a third of the city's general fund comes from occupancy-tax revenue generated by hotels, and Anderson said more than half the city's jobs come from tourism or related industries.
Efforts to stimulate the local tourism industry were expanded in 2009 with the formation of the city's Tourism Business Improvement District, composed of Dana Point's four luxury hotels: The Ritz-Carlton, DoubleTree Suites Doheny Beach, St. Regis Monarch Beach and Laguna Cliffs. The district has raised $2 million via a $3-per-night fee paid by guests at those resorts to help market and brand the city as an overnight destination.
During the State of the City event, Agency 51 presented a city slogan with the words "Once you look deeper, you'll see the point" printed against the backdrop of a diving whale. Official Dana Point logos adorned canvas goodie bags handed to luncheon guests, and an Agency 51 video played during Anderson's speech, praising the city's beaches, resorts and environmental resources.
Environmentally friendly policies are sound economic policies, Anderson said. "We're an ocean economy," she added.
Cleaner beaches and bluffs attract more tourists, she said, and corporate customers are looking for eco-friendly places to have meetings and conventions.
"Green isn't just good," said Anderson, framed by green lighting around the stage. "It's also the color of money."
Anderson said environmental preservation and sustainability have always been part of city policy but that in the past year the city has stepped it up. In March, Dana Point became the second city in Orange County to adopt a ban on plastic bags, shortly after banning plastic-foam containers.
On another subject, Anderson said the city's delayed Town Center revitalization plan is "still a priority." The $20 million plan, adopted in 2006, proposes to make one-way sections of Del Prado Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway two-way streets and create a pedestrian-friendly residential and business area. Construction has yet to begin because of sharp declines in tax revenue after the recession began in 2008.
Though the city still needs to identify funding for the plan, things could be worse, Anderson said. Dana Point had decided against forming a redevelopment agency, and now that those agencies have been dissolved under a new state law, major projects in many cities have lost their primary source of funding.
"We're still going to do it, but we're going to do it our own way," Anderson said.
The city's hopes for funding the Town Center plan will lie with increasing tax revenue by stimulating tourism, the mayor said. It helps that Dana Point is acquiring a national reputation as a whale-watching destination, she said.
Anderson ended her speech with a clip from the Ellen DeGeneres TV show in which Dave Anderson of Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari in Dana Point discussed his role in last month's rescue of a gray whale tangled in netting outside Dana Point Harbor.
"Whale watching has put us on the map," the mayor said.
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