By Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson
The fences are down. Parking is open. Summer is here. Go out and enjoy the beaches and be reminded of the reasons we choose to live, work and play in San Clemente.
Thank you to everyone for doing your part to flatten the curve in order to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and avoid overburdening the county’s hospital system. All 25 hospitals continue to operate below or within capacity to treat patients, and San Clemente’s COVID-19 cases still remain low.
This once-in-a-lifetime event has affected everyone, and the No. 1 concern of your city council and city staff has been to ensure the health and safety of our residents.
San Clemente will come through this pandemic and recession, but city council must lead the way by safely reopening city hall, reopening parks, playgrounds, sports fields, pools and beaches—not just for active recreational uses, but for passives uses, too.
After more than two months of adhering to stay-at-home orders, residents are ready to get back to normal. The city is instrumental in returning these recreational amenities to full use for residents to reap the benefits for their overall physical health and well-being.
Our local businesses also need council’s support more than ever. By the time this column publishes, council will have addressed certain small business assistance strategies that provide new and creative ways the city can work with local businesses to support economic recovery.
Not knowing how council will vote at this time, I can say I enthusiastically support these strategies, which would allow more commercial banner signs without a permit, waiving normal processes for interim zoning regulations such as temporary outdoor dining and retail permits, and closing Avenida Del Mar for traffic on Sundays.
As we move through this recession, we need public involvement, which includes opening the city council meetings to the public, something that so far has been blocked. Staff is looking at an alternative site for council meetings, and in a recent email exchange with the interim city manager, he stated the community center is a possibility once it is made more acoustically friendly for broadcasting and when staff acquires additional equipment.
I, for one, look forward to seeing all of you again and hearing your public comments.
Council participated in a budget workshop last week to hear staff present on the proposed Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget. We were told that San Clemente will not be affected by more than 2% of budget revenues, which is an optimistic $1 million loss.
The proposed budget for next year may prove accurate, though I believe we should be proactive and include contingent cutbacks in spending in the event revenue reductions are greater than projected.
This current year, staff projects $2.5 million in revenue losses, but the budget does not identify how these losses will be funded. I think we will see revenue fall at least $3 million in the next fiscal year from losses in transient occupancy tax (TOT), sales tax, gas tax, recreation program, business license and permit fees, and parking meter revenue.
There were no substantial cuts outlined in the proposed budget, other than not filling vacant staff positions. I agree with Councilmember Gene James that staff should identify 5%, 10% and 15% in potential cuts prior to the adoption of the annual budget. This would allow staff to have contingency plans in place that could be triggered should we see greater revenue losses, but council was split on this.
Regardless of how the budget ends up looking once adopted, your city council leadership will do what is necessary for the city to survive. And earlier in May, the council already voted to prioritize public safety and ensure there are no cuts in this category, as the health and safety of the community remains No. 1.
Laura Ferguson was elected in 2018 and serves the San Clemente City Council this year as the mayor pro tem and acting mayor.