Visitors staying along El Camino Real down to south San Clemente this spring will have a new transportation option when it comes to traveling to Avenida Del Mar, following a unanimous City Council vote on Tuesday night, Feb. 7.
On weekends from March 11 to May 21, the pilot “Green Line” trolley route will mostly travel along El Camino Real, going as far south as San Clemente State Beach before heading back to downtown. There will be two trolleys driving the route to reduce wait times, as was decided by the council in December 2022.
Economic Development Director Jonathan Lightfoot presented four total options to the council.
The first two included a 26-minute inland routes with stops accessible from San Clemente neighborhoods such as Marblehead and Rancho San Clemente, and a 23-minute southern route.
After further conversations with community members about alternatives, Lightfoot developed additional options, one for each proposed route, wherein the trolleys would double back on a main street instead of operating in a loop.
Those proposed routes, according to Lightfoot, would allow riders to return to their original destination faster, waiting for 30 minutes, and would also remove certain stops such as one at Ola Vista and one at Avenida Valencia.
Advocating for the Marblehead/Rancho SC route, Councilmember Mark Enmeier said the pilot line should serve inland residents and help them avoid parking worries rather than visitors in lodging along El Camino Real.
Councilmember Victor Cabral said he felt differently, stating that he didn’t think people would use the route crossing under Interstate 5.
“We like our cars here in California,” said Cabral. “I don’t believe people will turn what is a five-minute ride into an hour-and-a-half venture.”
It would be best to try the southern route to see if a new line works, Cabral added, and he favored the option that doubled back along El Camino Real. Councilmember Gene James agreed, liking the fact that the route would serve visitors.
Mayor Chris Duncan voiced his thoughts about what the city was trying to achieve with the pilot route in the first place.
“There’s a lot of people in that neighborhood (near Ola Vista),” Duncan said. “I thought part of what we were doing here was, (for) people that live in south San Clemente, making it easy for them to get to Del Mar.”
James told Duncan he thought the trolley effort was aimed at visitors instead, who would use the transportation option more than residents.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock said south San Clemente was deserving of attention, but he leaned toward the inland population because more people would benefit.
As he appeared to be the deciding vote, Duncan said he felt the more pressing need was to address the southern end of town. He added that he would like to see the area near Talega receive service eventually, but he reminded his fellow councilmembers that they were only testing a pilot program with limited funding to see how successful it could be.
“My feedback with staff was that there was a little bit more support for something going to the south,” said Duncan.
Amid discussion between Cabral, Duncan and James regarding the southern route, Lightfoot proposed a compromise.
He suggested that the line should travel along El Camino Real the majority of the time, but take a swing down to Ola Vista before coming back up as soon as possible.
Enmeier said that if the council was going to pick a southern route, he preferred one that would not include Ola Vista at all.
“I think (that) with adding a western drop-off … only the people in that immediate vicinity can access that one spot,” said Enmeier. “It’s a hilly area right there; it’s going to be hard to walk to, to get through those streets to get to that one drop-off point in the middle of Ola Vista.”
Recognizing that most of the council preferred the “linear” El Camino Real route, Duncan called for the motion, which resulted in the unanimous approval of the City Council.
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