By Jim Shilander
San Clemente residents expressed hope but also questions about the potential for the city’s proposed Paseo improvement project for alleys in the downtown “T-Zone” area at a development workshop Thursday at the San Clemente Community Center.
The project is still in its initial development stages, but would coincide with upcoming “undergrounding” of utility lines by San Diego Gas & Electric. With the need for utility poles eliminated, the city and Downtown Business Association are investigating ways of making the alleys—which parallel El Camino Real and Avenida Del Mar—more pedestrian-friendly.
“This is one of the most important projects to happen in the downtown in the last 25 years,” DBA president Michael Kaupp said.
Kaupp said the city was looking at potential improvements in lighting, paving, way-finding signage and landscaping in the area, as well as potentially allowing businesses to have common trash receptacles. If enough improvements could be made, Kaupp said, it is even possible some businesses could open up entrances along the alleys. Kaupp noted similar efforts in cities like Laguna Beach as proof of how it would work.
He also noted the work of psychologist Paco Underhill, who posits that the environment that shoppers find themselves in, such as a parking lot, can influence the value they place on their shopping experience. Kaupp said things like unsafe parking lots or ugly or plain facades could make shopping experiences less enjoyable than they might have been.
Associate city planner Cliff Jones said the final version of the plan, with community input, would likely go before the city council in July. More public input sessions would be scheduled before that time. Cal-Poly Pomona students who worked with the DBA last summer created some conceptual drawings that served as potential sources of inspiration.
Downtown property owner Ray Swanson said that while he appreciated the effort being made to improve the area he had practical concerns about how his tenants would utilize the common trash facilities.
“How do they take their trash out,” Swanson asked. “What kind of equipment will they (trash haulers) use?” Big trucks, he noted, would make things difficult on the pavement in the area. “I’d like to see some specifics,” Swanson said.
Former San Clemente Historical Society President Georgette Korsen said she was “all for the paseos,” but was concerned about parking downtown. Laguna Beach, she noted, had the parking structures in place to accommodate pedestrian traffic in higher numbers.
“I’d be in favor of a parking structure, unless it’s used for in-lieu parking,” Korsen said. She suggested potentially saving on paver bricks by using the ones currently in place of Del Mar and El Camino Real if the city decided to replace them in the coming years.
Brian Hannegan, a senior planner at San Clemente-based RRM Design, which is assisting with the design of the project, said he would take the input and review where trash enclosures might best fit, along with ways to dress up rear building facades and other landscape improvements.