Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its initial version published Monday afternoon, April 17, to include details from the City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, April 18.
If all goes to plan, the San Clemente City Council will consider approving a contract with a private security firm to patrol the North Beach and “T-Zone” areas at its next meeting in early May.
That was determined by a unanimous vote from the council at its meeting on Tuesday night, April 18, as part of a three-vote consideration of recommendations meant to help restore North Beach’s image.
To help expedite the production of a contract agreement, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock and Councilmember Victor Cabral will form a subcommittee to interview two firms that City Manager Andy Hall has already spoken with, in addition to any others Hall presents to the subcommittee.
The desired result would be a three-month contract for services, to cost the city a maximum of $100,000 for each month.
Cabral spoke during the item about the critical need to restore public safety in the area. He and Hall confirmed that a resident had recently been stabbed in North Beach and that Park Rangers had also been attacked, the latter of which is an ongoing matter that Hall declined to further detail.
“We need to do something, not next week, but immediately,” said Cabral.
After Hall presented the North Beach Placemaking Plan, a 20-page report that detailed all the potential ways to improve the North Beach Historic District, the council also voted unanimously to initiate changing all beach closure hours to 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., instead of midnight to 4 a.m.
Councilmembers accepted all other staff recommendations, receiving and filing the report.
At the beginning of his presentation, Hall expressed his excitement to tell the council about the plan and thanked residents for their significant interest and input into the development process.
Each department contributed ideas to the plan after the council directed staff to come back with a strategy as part of a collaborative effort to improve the overall look and reputation of the area.
“Placemaking is more than just a series of random efforts intended to focus attention on an area that is in need of revitalization,” the city said in the report. “It is a purposeful interlinked program intended to create a consolidated and orderly transformation of space from an existing condition into a more desirable location.”
The plan centers on four approaches to improvements, including recommendations for public safety, investment, maintenance, and business support.
Harkening back to multiple public discussions of the past few months, in which residents and councilmembers have voiced their frustrations over a reported decline in safety in the North Beach area, the report detailed that Capt. Jay Christian, chief of San Clemente Police Services, is committed to expanding his deputies’ presence in the area.
Hall referenced a recent experience in which he and Councilmember Gene James were at North Beach and happened upon a father, mother and their young daughter at the swing set, before noticing a box of Narcan nearby. Narcan is a nasal spray that uses naloxone to combat overdoses from opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.
“Anytime you see Narcan, there’s one reason for it: someone was doing something with fentanyl,” Hall said. “(It was) that close to where there was a young girl on the swing set.”
That exemplified the need to ensure public safety, Hall continued.
One key recommendation in the report was for the city to contract with a private security firm to cover gaps in enforcement and availability from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, as well as the city’s Code Compliance and Park Ranger divisions.
Options included the Oceanside-based Gatekeepers, which initially spoke to the council at a special March 27 meeting. The firm said it would cost the city $131,400 monthly to have four of its personnel monitor San Clemente 24 hours a day.
Another company, which has contracted with Orange County Parks and the Dana Point Harbor in the past, said its personnel would monitor the North Beach and “T-Zone” daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., for an initial cost of $40,000 to $50,000 each month. Hall said the security officers would only have a two-person team for each shift.
Hall also said he was open to presenting the council with more options, but in the interest of time and wanting to find a quick solution, the council may not agree with his suggestion.
James expressed the desire to take back control of the area, later saying that he would prefer to have security detail on patrol 24/7. Cabral also said that the security aspect was the most important part of the plan to him.
“I just don’t think we can wait for somebody to get killed in North Beach, so I am going to make that motion,” said Cabral.
Councilmembers further deliberated whether the best course of action was to use a subcommittee or begin an official process of issuing a request for proposals (RFP). They eventually determined that a subcommittee would get a recommendation back to them the soonest.
If the city were to follow the plan’s call for an enhanced Park Ranger program, the need for private security would decrease, but Hall said that the security hours could be adjusted over time regardless.
Other recommendations include hiring Park Rangers equipped with skills for enforcement; and improving public knowledge of city ordinances through signage.
“Hiring a different type of Park Ranger, with an advanced set of skills will take some time and it will be more expensive than the current part-time personnel,” according to the report. “It is likely that each full-time Park Ranger will cost the City approximately $120,000 to $150,000 per year.”
Investing in the restoration of the public restroom facility and playground led a second list of suggestions, followed by creating more connections between the Ole Hanson Beach Club and North Beach, and enhancing the trail head entrance with drinking fountains, pergolas, and other landscaping improvements.
Staff also suggested adding a lifeguard tower and substation to the restroom facility area, the latter of which, the city expects, could contribute to an increased enforcement presence.
The estimated cost of improvements to the restroom and playground areas is $750,000.
Residents and business owners’ complaints about littering, damage to nearby light poles, and other instances of property damage would be addressed by the Maintenance Division’s commitment to dedicating more attention to North Beach.
The division would allocate more maintenance workers to serving the area and assisting enforcement personnel in cases where significant cleanup is necessary, the city said in the report.
The city does project some cons associated with the proposed plans, including higher personnel and equipment costs, as well as an adjustment to operations in other areas of the city. North Beach though is understood by the maintenance division to be a “priority.”
To support and maintain a thriving business climate, staff recommends conducting regular meetings with local businesses, the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce, and other groups, and potentially creating a Business Improvement District.
The city could also aid in a day-to-day sense by streamlining applications from new businesses and waiving license fees for new North Beach businesses for two years, or waiving 50% of the same fee for existing businesses for one year.
Hall said staff also spoke to officials associated with the Miramar Food Hall project about why there had been delays in getting the project going.
“They said, ‘Well, right now the biggest thing we’re trying to do is get the area where the parking lot needs to be dried out, so that we can get the parking lot put in,” he said, adding that Miramar officials have been facing weather issues rather than running from completing construction.
On a more positive note, the report included suggestions for activities that could be held in the area, such as bringing events to North Beach at locations including the Ole Hanson Beach Club. One idea proposed is a holiday skating rink.
Both James and Knoblock spoke about 24 Carrots Catering and Events’ operation at the beach club, and how residents feel shut out of the facility that hosts weddings, oftentimes, for out-of-town clients.
Knoblock said that the council could work to find a middle ground with which to appease residents when 24 Carrots’ contract comes up for review relatively soon.
He also spoke about the 7-Eleven store, which he referred to as the “brown sugar cube,” that is situated amongst the historic buildings in North Beach and blocking what could be a scenic drive from Avenida Pico into the area. He asked the city staff to consider looking into who owns the property.
“If (the corporation leases) it, when’s the lease up?” Knoblock asked. “And if they own it, (ask) what they would consider selling that for as part of a grander scheme, just for information purposes and future analysis.”
His request received support from the council.
Following the council’s approval on Tuesday, the plan will be adjusted, and an additional action plan will be created.
Staff wrote that the city next needs to complete the California Environmental Quality Act assessment and coordinate with the California Coastal Commission for necessary coastal development permits.
Consideration of the placemaking plan would also be included in the city’s municipal budget process for the following years.