Year Will Bring Transitions and New Challenges
By Jim Shilander
While San Clemente has just exited an election year, it doesn’t mean that the city has left transitions behind.
City Manager George Scarborough announced plans to retire in the fall and will step down in March. Scarborough has helped oversee a number of major changes in the city, including the construction of Vista Hermosa Sports Park and Aquatic Center, the new Senior Center and the completion of the Coastal Trail. When he announced his retirement, Scarborough also cited the city’s healthy financial position as a point of pride.
The man credited by city officials with helping to assure that financial position, City Treasurer and Assistant City Manager Pall Gudgeirsson, will take over for Scarborough. It is not clear yet how the city will fill Gudgeirsson’s current position once he transitions into the city manager job.
“I am confident that the transition from my role as Assistant City Manager to City Manager will go smoothly as I have worked closely with our current City Manager, George Scarborough, for the past nine years,” Gudgeirsson said in an email. “I have started to spend time with him and the department heads to become more familiar with the few projects and programs that I have not been directly involved with in the past. The council appointment of a new City Treasurer and hiring a new Assistant City Manager will also ensure a seamless transition and maintain the ongoing fiscal strength and stability of the city.”
Gudgeirsson said there were a number of other important issues that the city had to confront in order to ensure its continued financial good health, especially as the city begins a number of major projects, such as a $25 million expansion of its recycled water system.
“The Long Term Financial Plan and the setting of strategic priorities by the City Council will be important as multiple projects need to be prioritized and funding sources identified,” Gudgeirsson indicated. “This is especially challenging given the loss of Redevelopment Agency and the expiration of the Street Improvement Assessment District. Although the city is on solid financial ground it will be very important that we continue to make solid, fiscally prudent financial decisions. We will need to continue our very conservative expenditure practices, especially in our capital improvement program.”
The city will also be dealing with the realities of some of the changes that came in 2012. One of the biggest was the opening of the Sports Park. Council member Lori Donchak said the maintenance of the city’s parks was, in her mind, a major issue going forward for the city.
“2013 will be the one-year anniversary for Vista Hermosa Sports Park. What a great addition to San Clemente. Our city staff is to be commended for such a successful year of building and running the new park,” Donchak said. “Maintaining the park at such a superb level will be a key financial challenge both short and long term, and I look forward to this year’s budget process on this item. We need to make sure Vista Hermosa Sports Park—and the other 23 parks in the city are supported for now and future families who raise kids in our town. There will be some important financial decisions as we balance the needs across town to maintain, replace and operate our park system.”
Forces outside the city are also likely to again be center stage for San Clemente. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will likely make a decision on Southern California Edison’s proposed re-start of Unit 2 of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in the first few months of 2013. If the re-start proposal is approved, Edison would run the generator for five months at reduced power (70 percent), which might mean that the plant could complete operation within the year as well. Anti-nuclear advocates have also been pushing for the NRC to review Edison’s operating license for the plant, and a petition by environmental group Friends of the Earth will be heard by another agency.
Transportation issues are also likely to be a major issue for the city in 2013. Expansion work on Interstate 5 through the city is slated to begin in earnest this year, and it will be important for residents to remain vigilant about traffic as the widening begins. In response to previous concerns about the effectiveness of sound walls that have been put up by the agency, Caltrans has agreed to install sound-dampening tiles into both the new and reconstructed sound walls it is constructing as a part of the project.
Council member Tim Brown said it would also be important for the city to continue to monitor the future of the La Pata extension project, which may help residents avoid the worst of the traffic during construction.
“Progress on the La Pata Extension will be a key part of this next year as the county tries to bridge the funding gap,” Brown said.
The city’s new General Plan will also continue to be a source of controversy. Currently, the Planning Commission is finishing up its review of the General Plan Advisory Committee’s work on the document, which will then go to the city’s consultant to compile into a final document. The final document must then go before the City Council for final approval. The document will also include a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which will seek to encourage non-vehicular traffic within the city.
A major point of contention is likely to be the GPAC’s proposed height restriction for the “T-Zone” area of Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real. The GPAC had proposed restricting all building height in the area to two stories. Currently, the city allows for three-story mixed-use buildings (commercial/office and residential) in the area.
The Planning Commission set aside the proposed restriction in September, and proponents of the restriction, including the San Clemente Historical Society, have indicated that they plan to lobby the council to reinstate it as a part of the final document. GPAC members have also been promised a meeting with members of the council to discuss their own concerns about the height limit and other changes that have been made to the document. The issue may become even more heated after the decision of Olen Development Corporation to abandon a proposed mixed-use project on El Camino Real next to the Historic City Hall building. The project had been a major impetus behind the push for the height limit, as many opponents thought the project too large. Project leader Mark Zonarich blasted the city when he announced the decision to stop the project.
Council member Jim Evert said he hoped some common ground could be found with regard to the height restriction, since, in his mind, those in favor of the restriction and those opposed to it actually had a similar goal in mind.
“We all want the same thing,” Evert said. “We don’t want an oversized, ‘big-city,’ downtown. We want something that preserves the feel that there is now. My view is that you can get that with the current zoning, but if we need to tighten that up a bit, we can do that.”
Evert said other issues of focus needed to be continuing to work on encouraging businesses to fill empty storefronts and empty spaces in business parks, as well as to continue to develop the North Beach area.