By Eric Heinz
Gabriel Perez started as the new planner of the city of San Clemente on Oct. 22, coming from the city of La Quinta.
Perez said he wants to make the planning process at the city more accessible, maintain historic districts and to modernize some of the amenities it provides.
“I actually grew up as a child in Escondido, so going to the beach I would go to either Oceanside or San Clemente, and when I visited San Clemente I always thought it was a well-managed and beautiful city, and I thought (working here) would be a good career choice,” Perez said.
Perez has been working in civil planning since 2004 and obtained his bachelor’s degree in urban planning from UCLA. He moved his way up to senior planner before moving to Riverside as a principal planner.
One criticism of the planning department from the public recently is the lengthy time it takes to get permits for projects. With the city’s massive General Plan and historic overlays, depending on where a project is located and what it seeks to achieve can take considerable time. Perez said he has been made aware of these concerns and hopes to address them immediately.
“I think that’s one of the reasons the community development director brought me on board; I have experience with…trying to improve the development review process for businesses and the development community and residents,” Perez said. “My prior experience had a lot of focus on metrics and making sure the review process was timely. So what I’m doing now is meeting with representatives from the development community and businesses to get their perspective of what they think is going right with the process at the city of San Clemente and what we can improve on.”
An online permitting application process is not yet in place, but Perez said getting one up and operational is one of his goals.
“I definitely see some areas where we can use more state-of-the-art technology and accept plans online instead of having people come to City Hall,” Perez said. “(We want to) really create a more customer-centric experience for a lot of our residents and the development community.”
Perez said that he’s spoken with the representatives of the Planning Commission, the governing board of the department he’ll oversee. Planning Commission is the only municipal body other than city council that has outright authority; however, its decisions can be appealed to and overturned by the city council.
“I’ve been able to meet with planning commissioners individually, just to kind of get their perspectives. Some of them haven’t been here a long time, while others have been here a while,” Perez said. “They definitely have a good sense of the historical perspective, and I’ve been able to hear about what’s important to the community, and those things matter at the end of the day and are sometimes part of the decision-making process.”
Perez said he sees a lot of value in the historic districts and promoting them.
“Sometimes homeowners don’t understand the historic value of their property, and we want to work with the Historical Society to be able to tell the story of San Clemente better,” he said.
Perez said the historic aspects of San Clemente have helped maintain its commercial districts and utilized the city’s scarce remaining undeveloped land (that isn’t protected as open space).
The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 16.