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Featured Image: After being appointed as the new mayor of San Clemente, Gene James on Tuesday night, Dec. 7, presents flowers to fellow Councilmember Kathy Ward, who served as town mayor for 2021. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

By C. Jayden Smith

Gene James was elected to the position of mayor at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night, Dec. 7, in a 3-2 vote with the support of Councilmembers Kathy Ward (the former mayor), Chris Duncan, and himself.

The appointment continues James’ run of political success, from the time he ran for City Council in the 2019 Special Election. The new mayor ran on a platform of public safety, fiscal prudence, and protecting quality of life in San Clemente.

There was controversy over the election all the way up to the final vote, as Councilmember Steve Knoblock commented about his concerns with elevating James.

Knoblock referenced his recent proposal to remove James from the mayor pro tem seat over a police recording in which James was heard confronting and arguing with a sheriff’s deputy.

Knoblock also mentioned the Stolen Valor controversy from the 2019 campaign, when mailers in support of James from the Republican Party of Orange County falsely depicted the then-candidate as having received the Legion of Merit for his service.

James, a retired Army veteran, has denied having any involvement in the OCGOP’s mailers.

“Both federal and state law prohibit Stolen Valor by punishing pretenders from claiming military honors they didn’t earn,” Knoblock said. “Prior to, and during the campaign of Mr. James for election on this council, he apparently presented himself as having earned the prestigious military Legion medal. His rebuttal to the Stolen Valor charge was that the mailers did not come from him personally and that someone else had simply made a mistake.”

Knoblock finished by saying he wanted the issue clarified once again and that he could not support Ward’s motion to elect James.

A handful of citizens decided to make public comments, with the first two speaking against both James and Duncan, who was appointed Tuesday night to the mayor pro tem position.

One speaker raised concerns over the Stolen Valor issue, even citing comments Duncan had made as a candidate in the 2020 council race, when he called on James to resign if James wouldn’t explain the matter.

Conversely, three other public commenters spoke in favor of both James and Duncan, to varying degrees, for their involvement, responsiveness, and willingness to collaborate. They also made retorts against the controversies surrounding James.

“Out of everybody sitting up here tonight, Councilman James and Councilman Duncan are the two most responsive people up here,” said Michelle Brooks, who sits on the city’s Human Affairs Committee.

“When the council voted to do away with overnight parking at Max Berg Plaza Park and a resident posted about it on social media because he lived there, it was Gene (who was) on it that day,” she added.

After Duncan was elected mayor pro tem, the new mayor stood with Ward and commended her work over the past year, including her efforts on the Toll Road Subcommittee to block the 241 Toll Road from extending through town.

“This is a very special city,” James said. “It’s worth every moment of time I spend away from my wife, away from my Golden Retriever, doing other things and working on the issues and problems of the city.”

James finished by speaking to what the council has accomplished and the future challenges it will face. He also emphasized the importance of working as colleagues with respect.

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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comments (4)

  • always taking parking spaces and never replacing them at the Spanish inquisition by the sea

  • As a 15-year home-owning resident of San Clemente, after my parents lived here 26 years prior and were very involved in community life, I am embarrassed to live in a city whose mayor is Gene James. This man seems to have no compassion for anyone other than people like him–white, privileged, fairly well-to-do homeowners who may own guns. I’m like him, except for the gun-owning part, and I also want to keep San Clemente a wonderful place to live. But unlike Gene James, I also want to help those in most need among us–the unhoused. Let’s be compassionate and figure it out, San Clemente.

    Judy Franz

  • I have to address one of the public comments that is quoted in this article about long-term RV & Van parking at Max Berg Park. This was done for the safety and protection of the children that frequent this park and attend Las Palmas Elementary. This issue had been worked on for some time. The person who was quoted, called for the protection of her children while not comprehending that restricting RV and Van overnight parking at Max Berg park was done for the protection of children. Some of these individuals were using drugs and some had trespassed on to school grounds.

    This matter took a year to resolve from the beginning to the very end. It was a community effort of people coming together to resolve this matter. RV & Van parking at Max Berg park had become such a persistent issue that individuals were camping for weeks and months at a time. Per San Clemente Ordinance 10.28.230, RV parking is restricted to parking for a 5- hour period.

    This was a collaborative effort involving the OCSD, CUSD, the Code Compliance Services, City Manager, past city council members & present city council members, and San Clemente resident(s). Former Trustee Holloway, Trustee Hanacek, Principal Barrosa, and the Assistant Superintendent Clark Hampton were actively involved in this matter. They made sure that the school Resource Officer reported the vehicles. Trustee Hanacek requested increased patrols around Las Palmas Elementary and surrounding areas. They worked with law enforcement to improve and maintain a safe environment in our community.

    San Clemente residents submitted complaints and called Code Compliance and OCSD to report violations. Multiple emails were sent to Interim City Manager, Erik Sund, at the time and speaking with him about the RV camping. This issue was escalated by sending emails to the city council members, since the matter was not resolved by Erik Sund. By informing and speaking to the Council Members thing were put into motion, however it took weeks and months. Last year, at a city council meeting, Council Member Hamm suggested to speak to Capt. Manhart regarding upholding our city ordinances that just needed to be enforced. Having the support of our city council was very important.

    Finally, after some time, it was placed on the agenda and the members of the dais voted, 5-0 vote to eliminate overnight parking at Max Berg Park. As a San Clemente resident of over 50 years, I am grateful that all of the members of the dais worked collaboratively to protect our community.

  • Gene James is honorary Mayor. Or I guess the real mayor because they rotate it around. Years from now it will appear on his resume that he was President.

    Wow—

    The stolen valor guy and the guy who is clearly seen in a video abusing a homeless person. What has become of our town? I wonder what the folks who endorsed him as a candidate think now?

    Sad

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