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By Councilmember Laura Ferguson
The central tenets of my campaign were transparency and the reduction of the city’s legal costs. At my first council meeting, I proposed adopting a Sunshine Ordinance to ensure city business is out in the open. Staff prepared an agenda report that fostered a positive discussion about improving transparency so the public has a clear understanding of how their government operates and spends their tax dollars.
For example, last month a resident asked me about a legal settlement agreement, and I assured the resident this is public information and here’s whom you contact to obtain a copy. These documents should be accessible on the city website, as should monthly credit-card statements for employee credit cards—much like the city’s warrant register—to keep city expenditures in check.
I also plan to research computer software to reduce the cost of public-records requests and ensure a thorough production of public records to avoid future related lawsuits. As for community quality-of-life issues, here are a few updates since joining San Clemente City Council.
Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane and I, along with the Human Affairs Committee, are coordinating a town hall meeting on homelessness. We need collaborative solutions that are workable for everyone’s benefit. At some point, council may want to declare a shelter crisis by resolution to be eligible to apply for Homeless Emergency Aid Program funds. Without accessible emergency shelter beds, cities cannot enforce anti-camping and littering laws. Anaheim enforced its anti-camping laws after opening two shelters. (See page 3 for more.)
Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA)
As a new TCA board member, my first meeting was on Feb. 14. The board received a presentation on planning for the formal scoping meetings scheduled to take place this summer. I encourage the public to attend, as we were informed there will be an opportunity for the elimination of alternatives and variations considered, as well as refinement to the purpose and need.
Though not officially an alternative (yet), arterial roads present a viable solution (free to motorists) in addressing traffic and mobility—especially beneficial considering the 14,000-unit development underway in Rancho Mission Viejo. The next meeting is at 9:30 a.m. on March 14 at the TCA headquarters, 125 Pacifica in Irvine.
Licensed Detox Facilities/Unlicensed Sober Living
I’ve heard from some residents that they continue to experience negative impacts from group homes in their neighborhoods. Last December, Costa Mesa won a lawsuit claiming that its ordinance unfairly discriminates against people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.
The decision could have a sweeping impact on cities that impose regulations on group homes. Its ordinance requires sober living homes to apply for permits and caps the number of residents per home to six, and staff or house managers cannot have violent felonies or drug, arson or sexual offenses in the past seven to 10 years. The plaintiff will appeal the decision and for this reason, I’ve been told, San Clemente will not be making changes to its ordinances. There’s interest, however, among residents to meet with Costa Mesa, so I will coordinate a field trip for us to learn more.
Though there are reputable operators doing good work, many are not, so it’s critical that residents report violations to code compliance. I can also help residents get better reporting on the disposition of complaints, work with the state and our legislators on enforcement to improve the industry and protect neighborhoods.
In its Feb. 7 press release, the city publicized the favorable ruling in the MemorialCare lawsuit on the city’s zoning on the former hospital site to require an emergency room and services, denying MemorialCare’s transformation to a state-of-the-art ambulatory health care center.
The press release told only half the story, focusing only on the victory. Our city still faces a court trial; federal issues including inverse condemnation will be considered; and a determination of the damages may occur. Even a win means there will be a boarded-up property until an emergency room is built, something MemorialCare has stated it will not build. Thus, a city win will not guarantee us a hospital on the site.
The city will continue to be billed for legal services through the trial and appeal process at a substantial cost to the city. If the city loses, it must rezone the site.
I welcome your comments at FergusonL@san-clemente.org. If you prefer to speak in person, let me know, and we can meet for coffee. Thank you for the privilege of serving you.
Laura Ferguson was elected to the San Clemente City Council in 2018.