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Fred Swegles

By Fred Swegles

Where were you in 1985? In San Clemente? Not yet in San Clemente? Not yet born?

Let’s ride a time machine back 35 years to view what was up then, using some local news headlines. What has changed? What’s still familiar?


Fire Chief Ron Coleman retired after 12 years that included battling San Clemente’s worst wildfire (1976) and enactment of game-changing fire protection measures.

A mandate from voters to ticket RVs parked in front yards spurred a legal dispute.

The city council proposed expanding the Pier Bowl Redevelopment Agency to include downtown San Clemente. It never came to be.


Debate erupted over allowing bed & breakfast inns into residential neighborhoods. The council set out to outlaw them in R-1 single-family zones.

Avenida Del Mar merchants were divided over the timing for major cosmetic redesign and reconstruction of the street, facing possible catastrophic disruption of business. The project was put off until January 1986.


A voter initiative to preserve views by limiting property owners’ tree heights was scheduled for the November 1986 ballot. Voters rejected it. “Measure F gets the axe,” the headline would declare.

City Clerk Max Berg announced his retirement after 35 years with the city. The city council renamed town founder Ole Hanson’s Spanish Village plaza for him—Max Berg Plaza Park.

A 300-acre Rancho San Clemente Business Park began to take shape, the city council hoping to create a badly needed new source of jobs and tax revenue.

Police Chief Gary Brown announced his retirement, and he was succeeded by Kelson McDaniel.

City hall had to hire three extra grading inspectors to keep up with a building boom in the backcountry.

What was once known as San Clemente’s 250-acre Marblehead Coastal property now has 309 homes, parks, trails, an ecological preserve and an outlet center, all pictured here. Photo: Fred Swegles


Municipal Golf Course fees were raised to help fund a proposed second city golf course on Camp Pendleton, along San Clemente’s boundary. Months later, military officials said no.

Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa purchased San Clemente’s FM radio station, converting KWVE into a Christian-focused format.

Leo Fessenden, a businessman who served as a mentor to youth and an advocate for senior citizens, was named Citizen of the Year.

A change in ownership resulted in a loss of 69 jobs at San Clemente General Hospital, which later announced plans to add a three-story wing.


Tuna crabs invaded the beaches.

Cautionary signs went up at beach entrances, after state legislators rejected a bill to limit beach cities’ liability.

The city council agreed to continue funding San Clemente’s pro-life animal shelter, despite its operating in the red.


The county removed Capistrano Beach from San Clemente’s sphere of interest. Capo Beach residents who had feared being annexed by San Clemente ended up annexed by Dana Point.

Chimes returned to Avenida Del Mar, after a community fund drive replaced dead, outdated equipment atop Hotel San Clemente.


“Plan 2000,” the City Council’s vision for revamping the Pico/North Beach area, fizzled following 1984’s voter rejection of a plan to relocate San Clemente’s sewage treatment plant.

The idea had been to put it inland to remove a North Beach blight and free up prime ocean-view land for something nicer. The city then would launch efforts to expand the sewer plant at this location and try to make it look nicer.

San Clemente’s fiesta carnival in Plaza Park was marred by gang activity, leading the Chamber of Commerce to announce in November that a carnival would no longer be held there. 


California labor activist Cesar Chavez led a farm workers’ march through San Clemente on behalf of workers at San Onofre.

Public hearings opened on plans to develop a 5,265-home community in Talega Valley. The plan was eventually reduced to 3,860 homes.

A shooting by the so-called Night Stalker in Mission Viejo caused a spike in home security anxieties. The fears abated days later with the arrest of Satanic worshipper Richard Ramirez, later convicted as a California serial rapist/killer. Sentenced to death, he died in prison.


San Clemente residents mobilized to oppose Southern California offshore oil drilling. City officials flew to Washington, D.C., to lobby against it.

A new Amtrak train kiosk was proposed at the pier.

Planned parking improvements for Calafia Beach took the form of a proposed county park.

Plans were announced for an Avenida Vista Hermosa freeway interchange.

The Miramar Theatre closed for renovations.


Camp Pendleton was asked to allow a freeway to cut through base property. The proposal morphed into a toll road route to I-5 that, after decades of controversy, was scrapped.

The city enacted an anti-graffiti ordinance.

Caltrans’ noise studies concluded that I-5 Freeway sound walls were justified in the north end of town.

A Marblehead Coastal development plan was announced, proposing three hotels, a commercial center along I-5, 1,500 homes, a Chapman College facility and the Nixon Library, all on 250 acres.

The development proved so contentious that Nixon instead built his library in Yorba Linda. The development plan died. The result today is a commercial center, 309 homes, parks, trails, open space and an impending hotel.


The Fisherman’s Restaurant was awarded a beach concession stand at the pier, outbidding seven other applicants.

A voter initiative was placed on the ballot for February 1986, aiming to limit residential building permits to 500 per year. It passed, helping to pace and regulate San Clemente’s building boom.


A review panel concluded that San Clemente’s sewer plant expansion and remodel were not “gold-plated,” as critics had charged. Plans moved forward.

Plans for 3,359 homes at Forster Ranch were unveiled, including a proposed 320-room hotel at Shorecliffs Golf Club, which the Forster Ranch developer was rehabilitating. In lieu of the hotel, developers 35 years later won Coastal Commission approval on June 11, 2020, for a 150-unit senior living complex.

Beer and wine sales at gas station mini marts were rejected by the city council.

Fred Swegles is a longtime San Clemente resident with five decades of reporting experience in the city. Fred can be reached at

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