By Eric Heinz

After more than a year of surveys and assessing San Clemente’s recreational assets, a draft master plan for the next 10 years is nearing completion.

The master plan will outline the city’s residents’ and municipal priorities for the next 10 years in order to facilitate decision making for project needs.

On Oct. 24, the Beaches, Parks & Recreation Commission (BP&R) discussed the draft document for the first time to get a better understanding of what that survey data yielded. Much of it looked at what citizens want and how they are willing to fund it.

The way in which this master plan has been strategized is a bit different than traditional overarching guidelines that become analogous to law. The plan is more of a map than city code. Pros Consulting, Inc., the contractors hired by the city for the plan, took the survey data and applied it to various aspects of the city’s BP&R needs and wants, and then the city staff will come up with individual “mini-master plans” for facilities, which differs from other plans that compile everything at once and modify items as they go. The fine-tuning process could be very similar in the coming weeks.

What’s next?

The master plan draft will be presented again at the next Beaches, Parks & Recreation Commission meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 14. Although the master plan is currently expected to be presented to City Council for approval at the first meeting in December, Commissioners said at the Oct. 24 meeting that it could take longer to formulate detailed plans for the individual facilities.

BP&R Master Plan Documents:

San Clemente Commission Presentation_2017 10 24 (3)

San Clemente Parks CIP estimate DRAFT (1) 

In stakeholder group meetings, about 300 people responded to the survey, and another 700 people took the online survey.

Neelay Bhatt, the vice president of Pros Consulting, Inc., said the questions from the survey were put together by the city and then complied by his firm.

“Those were suggestions brought to us by the city staff as questions they would like to ask within the survey and see if the community was in support of that,” Bhatt said. “We’re taking a look at what the costs of things are now and what they could be in five to 10 years.”

Residents’ high-priority
The highest priority for facilities for residents was to increase or enhance special events at parks or on the beaches as well as fitness and wellness classes. Facility and amenity priorities for funding included the beach trails, increasing dog park acreage and including off-leash dog areas.

The most frequent request from the survey residents responded to was initiating a sustainable sand replenishment program. Large portions of sand at the San Clemente beaches have washed away, leaving exposed cobblestones that can be unpleasant to walk on with bare feet.

Other projects included establishing new parks in certain open spaces and connecting parks with existing trail systems.

Increasing facilities for the new trend of pickleball, a miniaturized version of tennis played with paddles and whiffle balls, also was part of the higher priorities within the city.

Funding the fun

Pros’ research showed the city has $8.3 million in BP&R facility maintenance needs as of today and will have an estimated total of $14.5 million for all of its facilities by 2021.

A discrepancy in the survey data, however, showed the residents aren’t coming to a consensus on how to pay for these facility needs.

The city and Pros are working to develop a capital improvement plan (CIP) that prioritizes what the city can spend and on what projects.

Parks1 (1280x853)
Many people at Beaches, Parks & Recreation meetings have requested to have the Ralphs Skate Court expanded and lighting installed. Groups have also worked with the city to establish matching funds for amenities. Photo: File

It was mentioned that an increase in transient occupancy taxes (TOT), or hotel taxes, could help fund the projects, but only 42 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to vote for such an increase, which was also represented in the ballot initiative that failed to pass last November that would have increased the nightly tax from 10 to 13 percent in San Clemente, a then-estimated revenue generation of an additional $500,000.

When it came to funding sand replenishment at the city’s beaches, 19 percent said they would be willing to vote for a local sales tax increase, 33 percent would increase rates of beach parking meters, 36 said to extend hours of beach parking meters, 24 percent rejected all the options and 8 percent submitted some other method.

Other funding methods are available across the board, but these answers were specific to the survey questions.

Bhatt said deferred maintenance in many cities has become commonplace and doesn’t seem to be shoring up within the foreseeable future.

Next steps
Samantha Thomas, the city’s Beaches, Parks & Recreation manager, said the process of putting all the priorities and individual projects in a nexus will take the collaboration of staff and elected officials in the coming weeks.

“We’ll go back and meet with (Pros Consulting) and with the assistant city manager, and we’ll review what was discussed tonight, see if it’s workable within the document that was presented tonight, edit it and then re-present it to the public,” Thomas said. “A lot of these things do affect our operations, whether it be programming or facility usage. We will include maintenance in that as well.”

Thomas said many of the items within the master plan will have an effect on public works expenditures and operations—but it will depend on what is prioritized and how far along certain facilities are on their maintenance schedules.

Speaking of individual plans, Thomas said, “It has its own merit, certainly, because we have 25 parks and miles and miles of trails, and while this document might not speak to each and every one of those, they each certainly need their own attention and focus,” Thomas said. “Linda Lane, for example, is in a residential neighborhood, and we want to speak with those people specifically (who live near the park).”

Thomas said the city’s parks are “constantly monitored” through individual assessments of needs or other monitoring.

“The end goal is for us to present something for City Council that says we need these things to be funded in the next 10 years, and that could be improved lawn bowling or a new park and we want to be able to present those very concise requests,” Thomas said. “It’s always going to be a living document (that can be changed), and we’ll have to go back for revisions.”

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