Eventful year brought tragedies, triumphs and change to San Clemente
By Jim Shilander
Following a busy year that included a contentious election, the opening of Vista Hermosa Sports Park and the shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, 2013 might have seemed primed for a more laid back time. However, the city still faced a number of challenges and triumphs throughout the past year.
Craig vs. Mann, Mann vs. Craig: Steve Craig, the developer of the Marblehead Coastal Outlet Mall project, files a lawsuit against San Clemente resident and political activist Charles Mann, for actions of his political action committee, Watchdog San Clemente, during the previous election season that Craig said maligned him. Mann filed a countersuit, ultimately leading to a court ruling in March in Mann’s favor.
First in Series of Vehicle Deaths: A 68-year old man from South Dakota is killed in an accident along Coast Highway near Camino San Clemente. It was the first of several fatal automobile incidents throughout the year.
City Loses Popular Restaurateur: San Clemente restaurateur Tony Carbonara suffered a stroke and passed away January 24. Carbonara, whose family restaurant was among the businesses that ushered in a renaissance on Avenida Del Mar, is remembered fondly by San Clemente citizens and named, posthumously, to the city’s Wall of Recognition.
Historic Trestles: Surfing groups undertake an effort to add a state historic designation to the Trestles surf break. The effort was, in part, designed to protect the area in case of another attempt to connect the 241-Toll Road to Interstate 5 near the surf break. The effort is opposed by the Department of the Navy, due to concerns about the ability to conduct training exercises.
North Beach Parking: The City Council moved forward with the development of a parking lot on city owned land between Ichibiri Restaurant and Kaylani Coffee. The lot will have just over 30 spaces and serve the North Beach area.
Scarborough Says Goodbye: City Manager George Scarborough retires after nearly a decade with the city. Scarborough’s tenure included navigating the city through the financial crisis in good fiscal health, which he credited to his deputy, Pall Gudgeirsson, who took over his post. Scarborough also managed the construction of the Beach Trail and Vista Hermosa Sports Park during his time with the city. Former and current City Council members praised Scarborough for his management skills.
Sea Lion Rescues: A large number of sea lion pups come ashore across Southern California—many severely malnourished—as part of a mysterious environmental issue. Many of the pups, including some who washed up in San Clemente, are ultimately returned to the ocean thanks to rescue efforts.
Edison Eyes Summer Restart: Southern California Edison announces it will consider asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license amendment that would offer the opportunity for the utility to operate one of its two units at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at reduced 70 percent power. Edison stated they wished to speed up the regulatory process to allow for a restart of Unit 2 by the summer.
View Protection: The city considers a new view protection policy. Then-Mayor Bob Baker said he would like the city to begin acting like “a good neighbor” and agree to remove or trim trees that block residential views. Residents tell the council that past efforts at planting trees at city parks and elsewhere have cost them tens of thousands of dollars in lost property values, due to lost views. Others in the city maintain the city should not be in the business of protecting private views.
North Beach Rooftop Bar a Battle: Property owner David Gutierrez comes to the Planning Commissioner with a proposal for a rooftop restaurant and bar at 1509 N. El Camino Real. The proposal divided many in the North Beach area throughout the year, with some wanting a unique dining establishment while other business owners and residents who live by the building voiced noise and parking concerns. The commission ultimately rejected the proposal citing parking problems, but Gutierrez appealed to the City Council. A final decision by the body is expected in January.
Beach Club Changes: The City Council asks for changes to a proposal to stabilize the Ole Hanson Beach Club and add a pair of double doors to the poolside of the building in an attempt to create “a sense of arrival.” The change drew the ire of historic preservationists. A modified version of the proposal was approved by the council in May.
SCHS Principal Leaves: San Clemente High School Principal George Duarte announces he will leave the school at the end of the school year to take over at a middle school in Ladera Ranch. Duarte cites a desire to be around his family more as his children grow up.
Bag Ban Rejected: The City Council declines to move forward with a potential plastic grocery bag ban within city limits. The ban had been proposed by the Coastal Advisory Commission and championed by the Surfrider Foundation. Council members expressed concern about the potential impact to businesses and residents paying a surcharge for paper bags.
Blow to Edison: The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board deals a blow to Edison’s efforts to begin operating Unit 2 of the San Onofre nuclear plant by summer, by allowing for an extended hearing process for the utility’s license amendment proposal.
Board Summit on General Plan: Members of the Planning Commission and General Plan Advisory Committee meet with the City Council in an attempt to resolve differences between the two bodies in their consideration of the city’s General Plan. The meeting largely focuses on the height restriction proposed for Avenida Del Mar and surrounding streets but also covers issues related to view protection.
Halt Comes On Board at SCHS: Michael Halt, the principal of the West Tisbury School in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. is named the new principal at SCHS. Halt, a former Marine, arrives in August. Halt is one of seven new principals in city’s public schools this year.
SONGS Shuts Down: Edison announces June 7 it will cease power production SONGS. The utility cites ongoing regulatory uncertainty related to its planned restart of Unit 2. The utility also announces the layoffs of 1,100 people at the facility. The decision begins the decommissioning process for the plant, which is expected to take decades. The utility and the supplier of its steam generators, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, remain at loggerheads as to the manufacturer’s liability for the leaks that caused the plant to shut down in 2012.
Blow to Toll Road: The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board rejects a proposal by the Transportation Corridor Agencies to extend the 241 Toll Road to a soon to be completed road outside San Juan Capistrano. The proposal was seen by toll road opponents as a backdoor attempt to try and restart an effort to extend the Toll Road to Trestles.
Rancho Mission Viejo Opens: The Rancho Mission Viejo development officially opened outside San Juan Capistrano. The development is expected to have 14,000 homes, including a portion near San Clemente. That portion, however, is cut off from the remainder of the development and may require San Clemente to provide municipal services. The area, called planning area 8, is not expected to be developed for at least two decades.
Another Fatal Coast Highway Crash: A 76-year-old grandmother from Monrovia is killed by a hit-and-run driver on the night of July 4 near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Camino Capistrano.
Beach Fire Restrictions Spare SC: The South Coast Air Quality Management District adopts controversial new rules restricting beach fires, but amendments to the rules largely exempt San Clemente. The proposal had drawn concerns from city leaders about whether an important part of Southern California beach culture would be lost. The city’s fire rings will not have to be moved or removed due to exemptions in the rule, though Dana Point will be effected.
Miramar Mystery: San Clemente business owner Barry Baptiste tells the City Council he is the new owner of the Miramar Theater and Bowling Alley. Baptiste and Marc Spizzirri, the previous owner, who says he now manages the group that owns the property, had been in an ongoing legal dispute related to a failed investment. Both maintain their ownership claims on the building. A consultant who examined the potential redevelopment of the buildings states they could be redeveloped as a theater and shopping center.
Finishing the Castle: The Courtney’s SandCastle Foundation announces it has reached its fundraising goal to build the second phase of the universal access playground at Vista Hermosa Sports Park. The city had pledged to provide $110,000 in matching funds for the project. The city goes out to bid on the project later in the year, but receives unsatisfactory bids. The project will go out to bid again in 2014.
General Plan Work Closing: The Planning Commission completes its review work on the draft General Plan, forwarding it on to the City Council after nearly four years of work by the General Plan Advisory Committee, Planning Commission and other citizens.
Rack Pleads Guilty: Former Shorecliffs Middle School teacher Richard Rack pleads guilty on four charges of sexually abusing students following the conclusion of the prosecution’s case at his trial. In October, Rack is sentenced to eight years in prison. The judge calls Rack’s actions “predatory.”
Remembering Nick Pasquale: UCLA football player and former San Clemente High School student Nick Pasquale is killed in a late-night accident along Camino de los Mares. The community rallies in remembrance of Pasquale, and his family sets up a foundation in his name.
Marblehead Movement: A representative of Lehman Brothers tells the City Council the company is proceeding with infrastructure improvements to the residential development at Marblehead Coastal, including road improvements and the development of parks and a trail system. Work is anticipated to be completed in early 2014.
Decommissioning Begins: Officials from the NRC outline the decommissioning process for the San Onofre nuclear plant. The process began with the removal of the last fuel from Unit 2. Edison will next need to submit a report on decommissioning activities by 2015, though utility officials say they will submit the document in 2014. A number of the groups that advocated for the closure of the plant announced they had formed a coalition to monitor the plant. The group, the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre is currently advocating for the swiftest possible removal of spent fuel from the site.
Height Limit a Go: The City Council votes 3-2 to restrict building heights on Avenida Del Mar to two stories as part of the city’s general plan. The Planning Commission rejected the proposed restriction, put in place by the General Plan Advisory Commission in 2012. Members of the council majority cited the failure of mixed-use development to take hold on the street despite the city’s encouragement of such projects for 20 years. Opponents saw the restriction as an infringement on property rights of owners.
Toll Road Dead?: The Transportation Corridor Agency revises its agreement with Caltrans, allowing it to collect tolls on the current State Route 241 until 2053. However, the refinancing does not include the right to collect tolls after 2041 for any extension beyond its current terminus, which would potentially limit the ability of an extension of to pay for itself. Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he believed the extension proposal “was on its last breath” due to the change, though TCA officials note future changes to the agreement could be made.
Fatal Accident at Ralph’s: Paul Michelena of San Clemente is killed after being struck and run over by a pickup truck in the Ralph’s parking lot on El Camino Real.
Camp Pendleton Fatalities: Four U.S. Marines are killed at Camp Pendleton during routine explosive ordinance disposal. All four were experienced in removing explosives and had served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, military officials stated.
New Home for iHope: San Clemente-based homeless organization iHope announces it will close its offices and move to a temporary facility in Capistrano Beach, with hopes of returning to the city in 2014.
Beach Parking Suit Delayed: A lawsuit against the city seeking return of funds from the Beach Parking Impact Fund is delayed until January. The suit, brought by attorney Brad Malamud, seeks to return more than $10 million in fees to residents who paid into the fund, which was created to add parking spaces in the city based on anticipated needs from development east of Interstate 5.
Mayor Brown: City Councilman Tim Brown is elected mayor by his colleagues, taking over for Bob Baker in the annual reorganization of the board. Chris Hamm is elected mayor pro tem.
Four Killed in Crash: Four people are killed in an early morning Saturday crash on S. El Camino Real. Three of those killed were from San Juan Capistrano, and the fourth from Laguna Niguel. Police believed alcohol and speed played a role in the crash.
Talega Residents Get New Hearing: Residents of Talega, upset over a CUSD Board of Trustees decision in August to not return funds from a refinancing of a community finance district covering the development, win a rehearing. Residents said they were not aware the refinancing decision was being made in August due to a lack of outreach by the district.
Farley Leaving: CUSD Superintendent Joseph Farley announces his retirement effective at the end of the school year, June 30, 2104.
Council Says Remove SONGS Fuel: The City Council approves a resolution asking federal regulators to move the spent fuel from the site of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station as soon as possible.