Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its origina version published late Tuesday night, May 23, to include additional details from the meeting, including the council’s comments and the voting and interviewing procedure.
After a thorough interview process spanning more than three hours during a special meeting on Tuesday night, May 23, the San Clemente City Council appointed Rick Loeffler, in a 3-1 vote, to the vacant council seat.
Loeffler, a 23-year San Clemente resident and the chair of the city’s Public Safety Committee, fills the spot left open by former Councilmember Gene James, who resigned in late April. He was selected over two other finalists who emerged during the special meeting: Planning Commission member Cameron Cosgrove and 38-year-old candidate Amatangelo Pasciuti.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock was the lone dissenting vote.
Councilmember Victor Cabral spearheaded the push to appoint the 70-year-old Loeffler, saying that Loeffler had all the experience and expertise necessary. Cabral referenced Loeffler’s time spent in the community, whether as president of the San Clemente Beaches, Parks and Recreation Foundation or simply as an involved San Clemente resident.
The same could be said for Cosgrove, Cabral added.
“I’ve seen both (Loeffler and Cosgrove) in action,” said Cabral. “Unfortunately, despite your experience, Angelo (Pasciuti), I haven’t yet had the opportunity to enjoy your experience and your activity in this community.”
During Loeffler’s time at the podium to speak about himself and answer questions from the council, he emphasized the success the Public Safety Committee has had in recommending various actions and ordinances.
The ordering of FLOCK cameras to snap pictures of license plates, the prohibition of removing shopping carts from store property and possession of multiple catalytic converters all originated from the committee, he noted.
Loeffler also pledged not to run for reelection in 2024, mentioned wanting access to an emergency shelter and spoke about being accessible and nonpartisan.
“I think, as councilmembers, that’s what we need to do, is we need to address the issues that the residents bring forth,” he said. “We’re looking at so many things right now, I can’t think of too many things that haven’t been brought forth.”
After watching the council’s voting process play out, Loeffler said he was shocked and humbled, but nonetheless committed to working hard and being collaborative.
When deciding whether to apply for the vacant spot, he said he felt he would be able to serve well as a placeholder until 2024, allowing the candidates who will come back to start on an even playing field.
Loeffler called San Clemente a unique place with an incredible community.
“They get involved, they’re concerned, they’re supportive, and I can’t imagine being involved in a City Council anywhere other than San Clemente,” he said.
The meeting began with 21 of the 23 candidates who submitted applications receiving three minutes to speak about themselves in addition to the information they had already given the council.
Joining Loeffler, Cosgrove and Pasciuti were former city officials Don Brown and Tim Brown, and previous council candidates Tyler Boden, George Gregory, Dennis Kamp, Christina Selter, Donna Vidrine, Aaron Washington and Zhen Wu.
Additional candidates included Barton Crandell, Scott Harris, Gary McCaughan, Lois McNicoll, Edward Messinger, Mark Putney, Mikii Rathmann, Gregory Stolrow, Tom Streeter, Sommer Swanke and James Whelan.
In the midst of the first interview round, Boden announced his withdrawal from the appointment process.
After hearing from the applicants, each councilmember was allowed to list up to five top candidates in their opinion, and the number of hopefuls was whittled down to the seven who had received two votes from the council.
“You have made this an excruciating choice for this council, because that was one heck of a set of presentations,” Mayor Chris Duncan said before the first vote.
The group advancing to the second round of interviews included Loeffler, Cosgrove and Pasciuti, along with Kamp, Vidrine, Washington and Wu.
From there, the remaining candidates were sequestered in a “green room,” and one at a time, each person was brought out to answer two questions from the four councilmembers, for a total of eight questions. Candidates were allotted one minute to respond to each question.
Duncan asked what separated the interviewee from the others and what issues does the interviewee think the city has besides coastal erosion, homelessness and public safety.
Knoblock asked the candidates how they would address disagreements with staff recommendations and about their thoughts on whether national issues such as Critical Race Theory and the Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) framework should be taken into consideration at the local level.
Cabral’s questions were about how the candidates viewed the city’s crime and public safety needs and potential solutions to coastal erosion and preserving San Clemente beaches.
Councilmember Mark Enmeier asked whether it was prudent for national issues to be addressed locally; what, if any, national issues should be addressed locally; and what each candidate would do regarding homelessness.
Following the conclusion of the second round, the councilmembers picked their top two selections.
Duncan chose Loeffler and Pasciuti; Knoblock chose Cosgrove and Washington; Cabral chose Cosgrove and Loeffler; and Enmeier chose Kamp and Pasciuti. Loeffler, Cosgrove and Pasciuti moved on to the final discussion after all received two votes.
Cosgrove, a former Fortune 500 executive with extensive experience in local government, expressed during his interviews that he could use his knowledge of the city’s General Plan and design standards to tackle historic preservation matters and implementing the Housing Element. He also referenced his connections as part of the Save Our Beaches SC group to achieve coastal resiliency.
Regarding homelessness, he favored partnering with other cities to build an emergency shelter outside of city limits while enforcing city ordinances and avoiding the enabling of illegal behavior.
“The sliding of the bluffs (is) an important issue as well,” Cosgrove said of another subject he finds is present. “We don’t really have a clear, transparent process for residents to follow. The (California) Coastal Commission is somewhat hesitant to permit that, so we’re leaving some of our residents exposed, and I think that is an immediate issue.”
Pasciuti applied to the open seat as a recently retired 21-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, where he held numerous leadership positions and served as an instructor.
Among wanting to restore small businesses and reestablish San Clemente as a “cultural hub,” he mentioned upholding a social contract in relation to crime and added that the unhoused population should also have access to mental health services.
His position on additional issues within the city was that all subjects fit within a Venn diagram that touch each other, such as how effective law enforcement helps bring people in to do business in San Clemente and that both of those topics are tied to the number of homeless people in town.
“All of these don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Pasciuti. “We can’t take vacuum-sealed approaches to try to solve each one independently. It takes a collective effort.”
Among the remaining three, Enmeier’s initial choice was Pasciuti, as he highlighted the candidate’s “incredible experience.”
“I think he could bring a different perspective to our council, and I was just very impressed with his presentation,” said Enmeier.
Duncan echoed Enmeier’s sentiment.
“He brings something that we desperately need to the council,” Duncan said.
However, Cabral and Knoblock both found fault in Pasciuti’s lack of previous involvement around town, leading them both to vote against Enmeier’s nomination of Pasciuti.
Knoblock’s top choice was Cosgrove, whom he nominated, but that motion also failed with a 2-2 vote. Duncan and Enmeier were in opposition.
The process appeared in gridlock, as Duncan and Enmeier seemed determined to appoint their favorite candidate. Eventually, Enmeier joined Cabral and Duncan to appoint Loeffler to the council.
Loeffler’s wife, Karen Prescott-Loeffler, was in attendance for the night’s proceedings, and said he was the right man for the job, even among a slew of “amazing candidates.”
“He’s a man of strength and conviction, and he’s committed to the city,” she said. “It will be his No. 1 goal, to do right by the city.”
Loeffler was sworn onto the council at the meeting’s conclusion, reciting the Oath of Office. He’s expected to take his seat on the dais during the council’s next meeting on June 6.