Unity a key to creating new life in the area
By Jim Shilander
The future of North Beach has been one of the most divisive issues in San Clemente over the past several years. From the passage of Measure C in 2008 up through last year’s contentious campaign over the Playa Del Norte proposal, Measure A, the future of San Clemente’s gateway on the Pacific Coast Highway has been a major source of debate. But now, an organization made up of residents, business owners and other stakeholders is hoping to move the area forward and to advance the debate beyond the rancor of the last several years.
North Beach resident Rey Harju said he’s had 15 to 20 people over to his home regularly over the past year to discuss what could be done to improve the area. That group, which helped form the nucleus of the new North Beach Community Association, decided that the most important things they could do was to reach out to all sides of the past fights.
“The most important thing was to get a group together intent on making North Beach a better place,” Harju said. “We’re just collecting ideas that people have. Those ideas will eventually be converted into action items. But nobody’s pushing any big construction projects or anything like that.”
Last week, Harju helped to preside over a large community meeting that involved interested parties from across the area, mostly residents like himself.
“We had 38 people at the meeting,” Harju said. “Nine were not part of the North Beach community, but the rest were residents, people who work there or own property there. For the most part, it was anyone who’s interested in helping make North Beach better.”
One of the keys, Harju said, was to continue to foster the sense of community within North Beach itself, an area that, he said, has sometimes felt like “the Rodney Dangerfield of San Clemente.”
“We have some good developments, like the new restaurant at the Casino, places like Knuckleheads, which is like our local ‘Cheers.’ There’s lots of little things going on. Nobody wants to screw up North Beach. Nobody wants to over-develop.”
In the past, he said, development efforts in the area had either fallen through because of division or difficult development processes, such as the proposal for the Nixon Library at Marblehead, or had simply not been well thought out.
“Our best view of North Beach is probably from the garage of the water treatment plant,” Harju said. “That’s probably one of the most prime pieces of property in San Clemente.”
A key part of the effort will also be encouraging community events in the area. The Taste of San Clemente was held last month at the renovated Casino San Clemente. And this past weekend, hundreds of residents from across the area turned out at the Metrolink Holiday Toy Express event, which was purposefully moved to the North Beach train stop rather than the planned stop in the Pier Bowl. The association had food and informational booths that raised money for Courtney’s SandCastle.
“That’s the kind of thing we’re looking to do,” Harju said. The group hopes to hold other events, especially concerts, to bring people across San Clemente to the area.
City Councilman Jim Evert has been involved with the Association throughout the last several months.
“I see a lot of potential there. The problem is that there are obstacles in place,” Evert said.
Another major concern is the status of the Miramar Theater.
Harju said that at every meeting that the organization had, someone would bring up the status of the theater. Evert said the city had been working with the owners of the Miramar to restore the theater building itself.
“On the rest of the property, there needs to be some sort of community restaurant and retail that helps to support the restoration, even if it means tearing down the bowling alley.”
A significant recent positive, one that may well be a guide for the Miramar’s restoration, has been the work done at Casino San Clemente, which has been undertaken by the Sadeghi family, who had been behind the proposed Playa del Norte development.
“They’ve done a tremendous job with the Casino,” Harju said. Harju said he’d already held a family wedding and a birthday celebration at the facility, which also hosted the Taste of San Clemente event last month. A small restaurant is planned for the property, which Harju said many in the community are quite excited about.
Evert said another factor in creating a sense of community in North Beach was to beautify the area. There were already a number of such efforts underway, many being undertaken by the NBCA, as well as city work.
“Renovation of all the small businesses and restaurants is important. One of the most important things in developing an area is to have good restaurants. The Casino is opening a restaurant. There’s a lot of cosmetic things you can do.”
The city has had an incentive program for beautification of businesses in other areas, Evert said, which he believed might be successful in helping the effort in North Beach.
“The incentive program we had in Los Molinos really went a long way toward getting pride into that community,” Evert said.
Amber Gregg is the city’s community development staff member for the North Beach area. She said the city had made grants available to businesses to improve their facades and signage, as well as eased parking requirements in the area. She said it’s clear the city has real potential for growth, and it’s clear that growth was beginning.
“The North Beach area is very unique,” Gregg said. “It has great potential and great obstacles. Change has already begun in the gateway area, the roads have been repaved, the sidewalks and intersections have been improved with decorative pavers, the Casino has been beautifully restored and is a huge success, and the Ole Hanson Beach Club is currently going through an extensive restoration. We are also seeing an increase in new small businesses such as Bull Tacos and The Riders Club, and existing businesses such as the San Clemente Art Center are improving their properties. Hopefully these improvements will encourage other property owners to also complete renovations and continue this upward trend.”
Another major change in the community coming in the next few years will be the housing development portion of Marblehead Coastal, Evert said. However, since that portion of the Marblehead development is still controlled by Lehman Brothers, it may take a little bit more time to sort out than the commercial development closer to Interstate-5.
Those who opposed Playa Del Norte also have a set at the table. Former city councilman Wayne Eggleston, who was one of the leaders of the anti-Measure A campaign, attended the community meeting held last week, just to see what was going on.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I went there,” Eggleston said. “But I was impressed by what they were doing.” Specifically, he said, the efforts to bring community events and to do small things to beautify the area, such as planting box trees.
He also praised the work of the Sadeghi family in their work restoring Casino San Clemente.
“The Sadeghis have done a marvelous job,” Eggleston said.
All the small things and community events were good ways to encourage development in North Beach he said.
“Development that happens organically seems to be better than things that are master-planned,” Eggleston said.
He was also happy to see that the group was not about re-litigating the results of last year’s vote. “People said at the beginning of the meeting ‘Not to talk about Playa del Norte, and please don’t talk about Playa del Norte.’ Anytime anyone tried to bring it up, they said the same thing.”
Gregg said that unity, and the efforts to overcome past divisions, was very important for the future of the area.
“Unity is always very helpful, but you can only create unity through collaboration. The North Beach area has taken a large leap forward in the past couple of months. This association is different than any other in the city, as it includes businesses as well as residents. The members want anyone to be able to join that desire to make North Beach a better place.”