By C. Jayden Smith
Residents of San Clemente’s Cyprus Shore neighborhood gathered on Sunday, Oct. 10, to hear how City Council candidates planned to address the coastal erosion that has affected beaches within the city and beyond.
Those in attendance included incumbent Councilmember Steve Knoblock, Aaron Washington, Mark Enmeier, Zhen Wu, Dennis Kamp, Victor Cabral, Donna Vidrine, Thor Johnson and Shane Hirschman. Martina McBurney-Wheeler, who had participated previous candidate forums, confirmed with San Clemente Times late last week that she has withdrawn from the race.
As a theme throughout this past Sunday’s forum, candidates agreed that the upcoming $14 million Sand Replenishment Project was crucial to fighting against further erosion and protecting the city’s most symbolic and essential economic asset. Another common thread included putting pressure on state legislators and agencies such as the California Coastal Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal entities, as well as congressional representatives, to prioritize continuous sand replenishment.
Johnson said he would push for funding annual replenishment, and Wu pointed to restarting the city’s five-year Opportunistic Sand Replenishment Program that began in 2016 and allowed for quicker access to available sand that San Clemente could transport to its beaches.
Enmeier said that one of the things he’d like to see happen would be the construction of a groin or jetty just off the San Clemente shore.
“What this would do is it would capture a lot of that (eroding) sand, because we’re going to be putting in sand all the time, and it’s going to get washed away unless we have some way to capture it,” Enmeier said.
Knoblock favored tapping a specific city staffer to work with the state and federal entities to bring sand to the city. He also suggested dredging adrift sand & putting it back on beaches along Orange County and San Diego County shores.
Beyond the existing support for the Sand Replenishment Program beginning in 2023, candidates voiced few concerns with the recurring need to replenish the sand every six years. Enmeier and Wu were especially wary of the additional money the city would need to foot the bill for each project.
Knoblock said San Clemente needed to be proactive in serving beaches outside of the stretch included in the 2023 project.
“We rely too much on those (upper level) people in government—we are the people in government,” the incumbent said. “We need to be the squeaky wheel; we need to get things done, and as your councilmember, I will continue to try to do that.”
Grants were the name of the game in terms of sourcing money for the city to allocate toward a nearly $6 million bill to continue sand replenishment every six years.
Vidrine and Cabral recognized the national interest in securing the rail corridor that travels through northern San Diego County and San Clemente. They both said they would support efforts to attract funding for increasing the beaches’ width.
Cabral mentioned the $12 million construction project to restabilize the railroad track between South Orange County and Oceanside as a situation to monitor.
“Whatever it takes (to protect the railroad), they’re going to spend the money, and they did so this past week on an emergency basis,” he said. “That means that the emergency basis and that rationale still exists, so there is great opportunity.”
Wu and Knoblock highlighted the success of the Clean Ocean Program that included a fee, which residents continued to vote for in 2002, 2007 and 2013. It expired in 2020. The two pushed for establishing a similar system, and Johnson supported a ballot initiative to gauge residents’ interest in paying a fee toward replenishment costs.
Washington opposed raising citizens’ fees and instead suggested earmarking a portion of revenue from transient occupancy taxes.
Conversely, Kamp said he believed all residents would support paying for replenishment if they knew exactly where their money would go. He also advised against using TOT, saying the city could move around available resources from within the General Fund.
“We’ve got a lot of other things we need to do with that money,” Kamp said of transient occupancy taxes. “Specifically, I’m thinking about how we revitalize this place and how we pay for some parking (downtown).”
Hirschman referred to using the PierPride Foundation as an example of a citizen-led initiative for fundraising and talked about economic revenue.
“I would like to see our local economy be expanded with a lot of the small business (storefronts) that are currently vacant,” said Hirschman. “We need to basically get more commerce flowing in the city, so we can raise city taxes and get funds diverted (towards replenishment).”
The election to fill three seats on the San Clemente City Council will be decided on Nov. 8.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Thor Johnson’s name in the list of candidates who participated in the Cyprus Shore forum.
C. Jayden Smith
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.