By Wayne Eggleston
When I moved to San Clemente in 1984 Avenida Del Mar was basically deserted. On weekend nights one could shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anyone. I cannot remember a noteworthy restaurant along the entire block. There was a clothing store in the 200 block with the owner sitting outside smoking cigarettes and when you walked in, she would ask you emphatically, “What you want?” There was the Coronet, where you could buy anything, but it was 1950s dated. Ace Hardware had great customer service, but the merchandise and shelves were dusty. Over the years, restaurants started to appear and Carbonara’s restaurant started to breathe new life in to the faded downtown. Billy’s Meats and Deli opened, one of the finest of the finest, and residents flocked to this area. Then antique stores opened and a new class of customers appeared. The iconic standby, Sam’s Shoes, has been there for decades, and I would not even think about buying my shoes any other place. Today, Avenida Del Mar is vibrant, classy, charming, walkable and wonderful.
That is why I read with interest a recent SC Times article, “When is a Good Thing Not a Good Thing,” by Michael Kaupp, planning commissioner for the last 11 years and president of the Downtown Business Association (DBA). Mr. Kaupp was lamenting that parking was limited with three-hour limits and parking fines.
While parking can be a challenge, the article omitted some important points. The city imposed a three-hour limit to encourage parking turnover so that customers could find more parking. What the article did not mention was that behind the stores and El Camino Real there are a number of additional three-hour parking spaces and a total of five parking lots where one can park all-day for free. The city has been very creative over the years by leasing private parking lots, maintaining them and providing over 120 of these spaces.
Every so often someone gets the “bright” idea to meter the parking along the street. Fortunately, we are one of the very few beach cities that doesn’t charge for parking. Nothing could be more disastrous for this area than meters. Can you imagine when the outlet center opens with abundant free parking and Avenida Del Mar starts charging for parking, where would customers go for shopping? Over the years there have been problematic decisions by the Planning Commission and City Council to allow high intensity businesses to open along the street. Recently, the Planning Commission recommended adding three stories, thus creating more business and more parking demand without consideration given to how that will affect adjacent residential areas.
The DBA needs to come up with viable solutions, such as, merchants placing the informative city-parking brochure on their counters, filling the empty information boxes along the street with the same, providing a mobile app about parking, listing parking options on their website and advertisements. (Visit www.san-clemente.org and type in downtown parking for the city brochure.)
Avenida Del Mar should not and cannot compete with the outlet center. It needs its own identity and character. It needs to be a walkable, charming historic district—very much as it is now. Trying to change it to compete with the outlet center is foolish and will result in businesses leaving.
The article also proposed an idea to restrict current businesses on Del Mar from moving to the outlet mall. We do not need more government regulation and restriction of trade. Businesses have a fundamental right to choose their re-location.
Let us come up with viable and low cost parking solutions instead of just complaining about it. After all it takes a village.
Note: Wayne Eggleston was a three term councilmember 1998-2010, and Mayor, and managed shopping centers, business districts and office buildings for 30 years. He is currently Executive Director for The Heritage of San Clemente Foundation, The Marine Monument at Park Semper Fi. www.marinemonument.com.