By Shawn Raymundo
Chris Hamm is looking forward to doing quite a bit of surfing and playing golf now that he’s no longer on the city council. But what he says he’ll enjoy the most about no longer being in public office is the time he’ll have to spend with his wife and son.
“Just focusing on my family, focusing on my wife, my son, who’s 2 ½ years old. Spending time with them,” he told San Clemente Times this week when asked what he’s looking forward to most following his eight-year tenure on the San Clemente City Council.
“I’d say they suffered the most through this just because of the time spent away from them, with city council and then, of course, time spent away being a firefighter,” said Hamm, adding: “I’d say just refocusing on my family is the biggest thing I’m looking forward to.”
Tuesday, Dec. 1, was (technically) Hamm’s final day on the council, concluding a two-term run as an elected official in the town where he was raised, surfed, graduated from high school and where he’s now raising a family of his own.
While sitting down with SC Times at the end of the pier on Monday, Nov. 30, the “homegrown” councilmember reflected on some of his accomplishments while in office, as well as some of the projects he had hoped to get done but couldn’t.
And with a new makeup of the city council taking office, he weighed in on the long road the incoming councilmembers have ahead as some key votes and decisions are on the horizon for 2021.
Harkening back to why he ran for a seat on the dais back in 2012, Hamm recalled that he was drawn to public service when he was in high school after seeing a lot of changes occurring—many related to development and with which he said he didn’t agree.
“I asked as a kid, ‘Why are we allowing these things to happen in our backyard?’ And the response I got from my parents most times was, ‘It’s just the way it is; there’s nothing you can do about it,’ ” he explained. “And I don’t know what it was about that, but it lit a fire inside of me that said, ‘Well, I’m going to do something about it.’ ”
Hamm noted that he didn’t run for public office because of one particular issue, but rather he wanted to keep San Clemente “great for generations.”
“I didn’t get into San Clemente politics because I had this core issue that I cared about. It was because I wanted what was best for the community,” Hamm said.
During the interview, the question came up on how he thought he’d be remembered vs. how he hoped the community would remember him. After taking a long pause to think about his answer, Hamm said he’d likely be remembered as the youngest mayor in the city’s history.
As for how he wished he would be remembered, he said he’d want it to be as “someone who’s approachable.”
“Every decision I made was what was best for the residents as a whole. I didn’t look at business interests, or any one interest,” he said. “I looked at what’s best for residents. And I hope that when people look back, whether you agree with my decisions or disagree, you recognize that I was making those decisions from a resident’s perspective.”
Looking back at what he considered to be accomplishments, Hamm found it difficult to narrow it down to just one project or initiative. He noted that every project or development he voted in favor of that got approved by the rest of his colleagues was something of which to be proud.
One policy he long sponsored was the two-term limit for councilmembers. Voters last month had a chance to vote to approve such an initiative, or Measure BB as it was displayed on the ballot. San Clemente overwhelmingly supported it with more than 77% of constituents voting yes.
“When I got on, I beat Jim Dahl, a 16-year incumbent,” Hamm said, noting that he “had this massive uphill battle to face against somebody who was in office when I was in high school … the measure of entry is really difficult when you’re running against an incumbent with that much experience.”
Hamm said the purpose of setting a term limit was to “open the doors for people, to bring in fresh perspectives” and “get rid of this stagnant” atmosphere of the city council.
Regarding the things he couldn’t accomplish, Hamm noted a couple of initiatives such as an effort to have the Beach Trail extend further south, past Calafia, and the “road diet project”—the recent proposal to reduce the lanes along El Camino Real in North Beach from two lanes in each direction to one.
Hamm said the road project would have meant less road noise and provided more opportunities for businesses that suffer from the high speed of motorists who don’t see the local shops while driving past.
Another project that Hamm will no longer have an opportunity to push is the reopening of a local hospital. Hamm has been a proponent in getting an emergency room back in San Clemente and was working with Councilmember Gene James this year on the solicitation process in finding medical providers interested in taking over the shuttered facility.
Since he’ll no longer be joining James, who was appointed mayor pro tem on Tuesday, in continuing talks over the hospital, Hamm endorsed newly appointed Mayor Kathy Ward or freshman Councilmember Chris Duncan as his potential successor.
“I think Gene’s been a very good advocate of bringing back the hospital,” Hamm said of his former colleague. “We just need to find someone (else) who is as well … Kathy definitely has a good idea of it, and I think Chris would also do well.”
Aside from endorsing her to take over the reins on leading the hospital effort, Hamm had also backed Ward as the city’s next mayor, believing her experience previously in the role would serve the council well.
“I think Kathy would do a fantastic job as mayor; she has the experience, she knows how a meeting is supposed to be run, she can bring the consistency to council that has been much-needed for the past two years,” he said, not knowing his hope would become reality the next night.
Looking ahead, Hamm cautioned that new Councilmembers Duncan and Steve Knoblock will have their work cut out for them.
“If any councilmember who just got elected, whether Chris or Steve, think they’re going to be on easy street, they’re in for a rude awakening,” he said, noting that because the council has operated a member short for much of the past two years, that “put our calendar way behind and a lot of that stuff has been pushed back because it would inevitably be a 2-2 vote. They have a lot of work ahead of them in 2021.”
One item of particular importance will be the recruitment and appointment of a new city manager, an endeavor that began back in January when James Makshanoff, the city’s former chief executive, resigned.
The recruitment process has been in limbo for several months—an issue Councilmember Laura Ferguson lamented in June, when she raised the concern that certain officials weren’t willing to move forward.
Hamm at the time had said city managers want “a unified vote in support in order for them to accept a job offer.” He repeated that sentiment on Monday, stating that having a four-person council was an issue for him, as a “city manager wants to have unanimous support.”
Offering advice for the council, Hamm echoed his philosophy on “doing the best for the residents of San Clemente.”
“You’re there to do what’s best for the residents, best for the community,” Hamm said. “You’re there to do a great job.”
As for his own political future, Hamm swore he has no ambitions of running for any other elected office, believing the only thing that matters is what happens in San Clemente.
“That was never on the agenda in my ‘political career.’ I only ran for city council because I love San Clemente,” he said, later, adding: “What’s important is inside San Clemente’s city limits. (I have) no future endeavors to run for political office of any kind.”
Whether he’ll again seek a seat on the city council, he said he’s certainly open to it, but not until after he retires from his day job as a firefighter.
“You know, I wouldn’t mind doing it again when I retire. One of the things that’s difficult is juggling a career, family and city council,” he said. “That’s a lot on your plate … I don’t have any interest until I’m retired, and we’ll reevaluate at that time.”
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.