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By Councilmember Kathy Ward
Online commentary about city lawsuits—which seem to mainly occur around election time—are bandied about as true facts. Someone recently told me the city loses so many lawsuits, which surprised me, because it’s not accurate.
The complaints that I recall in the past decade over material issues have been the beach parking fund, sober living homes, vacation rentals, outlet mall temporary signage and the toll road.
The city didn’t win the lawsuit on the beach parking fund—a mitigation fee established when the city doubled in size—as a result of incorrect reporting on a form required for mitigation fees. This caused me to vote for a new law firm and require all city forms be reviewed.
Another suit was over the city’s zoning of sober living homes and vacation rentals. The city settled a lawsuit with a sober living provider who planned for major investment in San Clemente. This settlement was used in a campaign flyer to insinuate the city lost because the settlement allowed more homes.
Settling a lawsuit is not a loss. Yes, the settlement agreed to allow an increase of five houses, but conditions had to be met before any new homes could be approved.
The fact is, the operator was never able to meet those conditions, and no homes were ever added. That operator now has no sober living homes in San Clemente. Our zoning remains intact. Was that settlement a success? I think so.
The outlet mall sued the city over enforcement of our temporary sign ordinance. While the outlet mall was being built, the project had not applied for freeway signage, but they did apply for temporary signage, which was granted, but it is, by default, temporary.
In an agreement, the city waived penalties and assisted them in a pathway to complete an environmental study and a permit application process. Inaccurate campaign comments were that the city was sued because we wouldn’t give them their signs. The facts are quite a bit different.
You might remember hearing the city’s lawsuit against the toll road was going to be a loss and the city would be bankrupt. It is disappointing such an important action to residents of San Clemente was used to disparage the city.
New comments I’m hearing now are about city consultants, claiming we have no proof of work performed nor evidence of their success. Of course, we knew the work plan, and the evidence of success is simply looking outside.
Every single day you don’t see a toll road through our city, and you see the Presbyterian Church, Volare hotel, and Ralphs still exist, the efforts were successful.
There have been major quality-of-life issues that we have faced. Outside interests wanted to do something in our city that was destructive, and it had to be stopped or rules had to be set to protect you.
I was elected by you to follow the General Plan. The plan protects residents’ quality of life. It took years of discussions and thousands of hours from dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers and city staff who worked hard to get it right so we will have a city we recognize in the future.
There have been recent letters to the editor with concerns raised over the city’s future development. Residents should pay attention. The pandemic has afforded circumvented planning processes, which I think are a mistake when weighed against all the interests in our city. This is a special city, and we should all continue to work together to keep it.
Kathy Ward is a city councilmember who was elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018.