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By Shawn Raymundo
Mayor Dan Bane’s list of priorities he’s hoping to accomplish for San Clemente in 2020 is ambitious to say the least.
Among them are a handful of ongoing issues the city faced in 2019, such as continuing to address the homelessness crisis, eliminating the proposed toll road extensions and exploring options to reopen San Clemente’s hospital.
But at the top of that list is something he didn’t think he was going to have to do going into the New Year—finding a new city manager.
“I wasn’t expecting to have to sort of lead the charge to find a new city manager,” Bane said. “But that’s going to be the first and foremost in terms of the priority list: to get a city manager selected and recruit some very good people.”
In mid-December, current City Manager James Makshanoff resigned, notifying the council that he’d be stepping down effective Jan. 17, as he had been hired to be the City of Pomona’s new city manager starting near the end of this month.
During the San Clemente City Council’s last regular meeting, the councilors agreed in closed session talks to give Bane the authority to solicit and approve a recruitment firm on the city’s behalf.
Sitting down recently with San Clemente Times to talk about his goals for 2020, Bane said he hopes to work expeditiously in finding Makshanoff’s replacement, as much of what he and the council would like to accomplish hinges on how quickly they can get a new city manager.
“Ultimately, that’s the quarterback of the city, the one to sort of take what city council wants to accomplish and make it so,” Bane said. “So, if we have a huge delay in getting a city manager in, unfortunately, a lot of these other desires that we have as a city council are going to suffer.”
The ‘Boise’ Ruling
As if finding a new city manager wasn’t enough of a hassle to start the year, another wrench was thrown into the city’s strategies on homeless-related issues last month, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied to take up the controversial ruling in Martin v. City of Boise.
“That’s sort of a linchpin in the ultimate strategy the city is going to take, because depending on how that goes, if they don’t take it up for (certiorari), then we know that we’ll have to figure out some sort of a sheltering solution, whether it’s a regional or local,” Bane had said a day before the SCOTUS denial. “There’s really no more kicking the can down the road at that point.”
The Boise decision would dictate the city’s strategy for 2020, Bane had said, noting that it wouldn’t have made “sense to plow forward with a very expensive shelter until we know what the law is going to be and how it’s going to be applied.”
In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that ordinances banning individuals from camping in public violated the Eighth Amendment rights of the homeless. That ruling essentially bars municipalities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances unless adequate shelter beds are provided.
Assistant City Manager Erik Sund previously had told SC Times that the city would be working with contractors City Net and Mercy House to strategize their next steps following last month’s Supreme Court decision.
Regardless of how the request to take up Boise played out, Bane stressed that municipalities can’t just police their way out of the problem and should look at utilizing programs to reinstitute homeless individuals back into the work force, as well as treat those with mental illness and drug addiction.
“You’ve got to have programs in place to send these individuals. You can’t just say, ‘We’re going to police our way out of it,’ ” he said. “It’s not going to be effective.”
Pointing to Solutions for Change, a nonprofit organization that provides counseling services, parenting classes and employment training to the homeless, among other things, Bane said he’d be in favor of providing city coffers to similar programs.
“If the law becomes such that the city can contribute funds to these programs to get them off the streets, I would much rather do that than some sort of permanent supportive housing,” he said, later stating that mental health and addiction issues seem to be the most prevalent among Orange County’s homeless population.
“Whatever the root cause is, I don’t think it’s an effective model to just give somebody a home without treating the underlying issues and expecting them to recover,” Bane said. “I think the relapse rate is pretty high. So that’s what we’d like to do.”
Priorities of 2020
With the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which is working with the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), now undergoing its scoping period for the South County Traffic Relief Effort’s environmental report, Bane notes that toll road discussions will be “kicking into high gear.”
“This is sort of a pivotal year for the city as that document starts coming out, I think, by June,” Bane said. “The TCA Board is going to be considering what routes they actually want to proceed with and which ones they don’t.”
Getting “the really harmful, destructive routes off the table” will be paramount for the residents of San Clemente, Bane said. The city, he emphasized, doesn’t believe the traffic projections for South County support the need to extend the 241 Toll Road through San Clemente.
“It’s really going to be a matter of convincing state and local legislators that that is, in fact, the case,” Bane said.
One route that the city could potentially get nixed from the list of proposals is Alternative 14, which looks to extend the 241 down near the western border of Rancho Mission Viejo, cross over La Pata and join the Interstate 5 Freeway by Avenida Pico.
The city has expressed interest in purchasing a pair of parcels located within San Clemente’s open space area along Pico from the Rancho San Clemente Business Park. Currently, that 10-acre land is in escrow with Emergency Shelter Coalition.
However, that sale is unlikely to go through, as the business park members last month voted down ESC’s request to terminate the CC&R’s for the parcels, which was a condition of the sale agreement.
The city has offered to purchase the land with the intention of turning it into a conservation easement, which would present a “substantial roadblock” for the TCA. The easement, he added, would show “that there’s a higher and better need for that land because a conservation easement is at the upper echelon of uses, especially on the coast.”
Asked about his thoughts on Alternative 22, a road alignment plan that Orange County Board Supervisor and Chairperson Lisa Bartlett had proposed, Bane prefaced his answer by stating that the “city’s position is, and will be, unless somebody proves to us otherwise, there’s really no need for these options.”
“But certainly Alterative 22 has been an approach that we’ve been saying from day one, which is to build arterial solutions that can manage traffic needs of the future,” Bane said.
Bartlett’s proposed route would connect the new Los Patrones Parkway in Rancho Mission Viejo from Cow Camp Road to Avenida La Pata, running along the east side of the Prima Deschecha Landfill.
“If the county is jonesing to build out an arterial project to serve Rancho Mission Viejo, then I think Alternative 22 would be a viable proposal as long as it doesn’t become a tolled freeway,” he said. “I think we would be OK with that.”
Another one of Bane’s top priorities this year will be the pursuit in getting a hospital with an emergency room running in San Clemente again. That issue is closer on the horizon, as the city this month will begin soliciting proposals from medical providers interested in reopening the hospital on Camino De Los Mares.
The request for proposals (RFP), Bane said, will allow the city to find out whether working with a provider is a viable option.
“That’s what we really want to be able to tell the public is a sort of a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down on whether we’re going to be able to get a provider that can get us a hospital with an emergency room,” he said.
If the city does end up partnering with a provider through a joint venture to reopen the hospital, Bane said the city will need a source of funding available to do so. Currently, the city is considering either selling off or leasing its city hall site on Avenida Presidio.
“It’s an old site that we’re really not doing much with,” he said. “Can we put a use like a boutique hotel or something like that there and lease out the property and get some sales-tax revenue? So we started looking at those proposals.”
Much of the city’s operations are currently being run at its new city hall site on Calle Negocio. Bane noted that he’s been asked repeatedly what’s to happen with city council meetings and the Police Services substation at the Presidio city hall.
“Frankly, that (Presidio) building is getting to the point where it’s got asbestos issues, it’s old, it’s got foundation issues, and we’re really not using it for anything citywide,” Bane said. “So, perhaps it’s time to get rid of that resource and deploy it to another area.”
One option for the Orange County Sheriff’s substation is to relocate it to the new city hall site. Otherwise, the city has been engaging with OCSD to locate other city-owned properties that could be viable for their deployment operations.
As for the city council meetings, Bane said they’re looking into a couple of different options as well, including an idea that had been previously shelved—building out a civic, event and conference center with new council chambers at the Vista Hermosa Sports Park.
“If you look at our council chambers now, we’ve really outgrown it as a city—I mean, tremendously,” he said, adding: “It would be nice to at least be able to expand so we can have more folks participate rather than having people sitting outside, which seems like is happening on a pretty regular basis recently.”
Now, if the hospital RFP proves to not be a viable route for the city, Bane said the city will have to either convince MemorialCare, the hospital’s former operator, to sell the property to another provider or exercise eminent domain to take the site.
Bane emphasized that he has to recuse himself from the dais during discussions of the hospital, as he has potential financial risk with his law firm representing MemorialCare in unrelated matters in Los Angeles.
Ultimately, the rest of the city council will have to take the lead on the issue, he said. Another fallback option could be working with MemorialCare to see what it’s willing to offer by way of services, “whether it’s an uber-urgent care or sort of amenities that the community can be happy with.”
“I don’t foresee—this is me talking alone—I don’t foresee the city taking the property from MemorialCare and giving it to somebody else if it’s not going to be a hospital with an emergency room,” he said.
A Year of Practice
The new year will certainly present Bane and the city with some new challenges. Fortunately for the mayor, he’s used to dealing with new challenges on the fly.
Last May, Bane, as the council’s mayor pro tem for 2019, was thrust into the role of acting mayor, having to step into the leadership position in the wake of Mayor Steve Swartz’s untimely death.
“I don’t think anyone wants to step into a role that way; I certainly didn’t,” Bane said. “It was a baptism by fire in every way.”
As the official mayor of San Clemente now, Bane explained that while “it was a very steep learning curve from May on,” this past year gave him a lot of practice, as well as insight and experience that he intends to apply to the role in 2020.
“Yeah, it gave me a lot of practice. I feel very comfortable in the role now,” he said before expressing his appreciation to his fellow councilmembers for voting to have him continue serving as mayor.
Bane admits that one thing he learned from his first year on the council was that, as a candidate, “You don’t really have the full picture of all the things that are going on.”
“Your first several months as a councilmember, and for me as mayor pro tem and acting mayor, was No. 1, getting a lay of the land of how things work; you see one side as a public (citizen) because you only understand what you see and what you hear, but there’s a whole bunch of different things happening behind the scenes,” he said.
Such realization, he added, was certainly apparent in the city’s homelessness crisis, when he “learned a lot about getting the whole facet and the full pictures of all the obstacles and things behind the scenes.”
Bane stressed that the homeless crisis isn’t something one city can afford to do on its own and needs to be addressed regionally by working with local counterparts such as the mayors and councilors of neighboring cities, as well as state and county officials.
“For a city of 68,000 people, we don’t have the monetary resources or other resources to come up with a fix; you’ve got to be able to work with your regional colleagues, your mayors, other city councilmembers,” he said.
“I don’t think you can make effective decisions until you see the full game board,” he added. “I think that’s been what really the last year has taught me, what I really worked hard to try to do. And I feel like I’m in a much better position than I was in May to effectively lead to get us to a place to be successful as a city.”
“I don’t think anyone wants to step into a role that way; I certainly didn’t. It was a baptism by fire in every way.”Mayor Bane
Reflecting on 2019
In 2019, the city was forced to face the homeless issue on multiple fronts. The city was among several others in the South County that were hit with lawsuits alleging that they hadn’t done enough to provide shelters.
And to remove the influx of homeless campers staying in the North Beach area, councilors, last May, passed urgency ordinances to enact an outdoor homeless shelter on Avenida Pico. Though much of the community applauded the removal of those homeless, the Pico camp itself drew sharp criticism from residents of the nearby Sea Summit neighborhood.
“I know that we took a lot of flak from various different angles, whether it was the homeless advocates saying we weren’t doing enough, whether it was our city residents saying we weren’t doing enough, and then everybody sort of has an opinion all along the way on the various things that you do,” he said.
Asked how he thought the council handled the homeless crisis last year, Bane acknowledged that while there was no perfect solution, he believed he and his fellow councilmembers handled it as best they could.
“Evaluating our response, I have to go back to what we knew at the beginning, to what we know now, and I think we handled it as best we could under the circumstances; I really do,” he said. “I think that back in May, when we made the decision to enact the urgency ordinances to do the encampment, I think we were making the best decision that we could at the time. We learned a lot through that process along the way.”
While Bane had previously stated that cities can’t police their way out of the issue, he explained that when it comes to individuals who are refusing service, “We learned that we have to be proactive, and we have to be enforcement-oriented in dealing with those folks; otherwise, they just sort of take over areas while the quality of life diminishes.”
Bane continued to stress the need for a regional solution, but noted that the failure in accomplishing such a thing falls on “not just myself and the city council here, but the city councils and county leaders in South County.”
“There’s understandably a reluctance of communities in San Clemente to sort of be the home for Orange County’s homeless,” he said. “I understand that . . . but I do think that if there’s a will to get the cities to work together with the county, I do think that we can get to an effective regional solution that can give everyone the ability to manage the sort of homeless issue as it is right now.”
Final Priority: Teamwork
With another election season looming, Bane said it was important for the city council to work together and be a cohesive team in 2020. The elections in 2018 and 2019 were “really ugly all the way across the board.”
In talking with Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson and Councilmembers Chris Hamm, Kathy Ward and newly sworn-in Gene James, Bane said, “There are far more issues that unite us on the council than divide us.
“Certainly, there are different personalities, but my job and role as mayor, I think, is to make all of those personalities work together, to accomplish our very clear goals that all of us share.”
“I’ve already made that clear to my colleagues that I don’t see the mayor as a monolithic figure that gets to decide what the priorities are,” he added. “We’re going to work together, and my job as mayor is to facilitate as much agreement as I possibly can.”
Bane knows the election season ahead will again be divisive. And while he hopes it won’t be, he intends to “lead by example” in promoting reasonable and respectable dialogue among opposing viewpoints.
“I’m not going to sit up on the dais and lecture people about being nice and all that. You will never, ever hear me attack a candidate or one of my colleagues,” he said. “I will certainly disagree with them on issues, but at the end of the day, I respect all of my colleagues, I respect anyone who’s willing to put themselves and their families through an election because they want to help the city. That’s what I will do.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.