By C. Jayden Smith
Jim Dahl, a longtime San Clemente councilmember and retired firefighter, died Wednesday morning, Jan. 12. Dahl was 78 years old and is survived by his wife, Alice, two children and several grandchildren.
Don Brown, a friend and vice president to the Exchange Club of San Clemente, tells San Clemente Times that Dahl died in his San Clemente home in the early morning hours.
Dahl served on the City Council from 1996 to 2012 and was mayor four times. During that period, he also finished out the last of his 30 years as a firefighter in the area, retiring in 2008.
There were times in which Dahl and other councilmembers or residents stood on opposite sides, but by and large, Dahl was a respected figure among the community.
“While we disagreed upon many city issues, we were always friends, and we were always courteous to each other,” said Wayne Eggleston, who served on the council from 1998 to 2010. “I’ll miss him a great deal, because I think that he was very valuable to the city in many ways.”
Dahl had previously served as the president of the Exchange Club, a role Brown will be taking over. Brown, who served on the Planning Commission from 2008 to 2021, worked with Dahl in city government.
Brown and other Exchange Club members heard the news of Dahl’s passing on the way to their usual Wednesday routine of playing golf together, an activity in which Dahl always participated.
They were all shocked, as Dahl was an important part of their group and of the community.
“(Dahl) knew everybody, was engaged in our little city and was highly respected by everybody,” Brown said, adding that Dahl was “just an all-around good guy, plugged in, conscientious, easygoing and laid back.”
In a press release from the city on Wednesday, Mayor Gene James touched on Dahl’s service to the community as both an elected official and firefighter.
“Jim was a friend, and I will miss his sage advice and counsel,” James said in the release. “He was a great leader and will be missed beyond words.”
Lori Donchak, a councilmember from 2006 to 2018, was heartbroken upon hearing the news. She told SC Times on Wednesday that Dahl had gone the extra mile to make her feel welcome when she first served on the council.
“What I would say about him as a mayor was that he was a complete champion for public safety, and he made sure that our city was heard in the broader county,” Donchak said. “He was really good at cultivating relationships with other cities and agencies, and (he) made San Clemente better that way.”
Councilmember Steve Knoblock also spoke about the former city official.
“Jim Dahl was the consummate public servant,” Knoblock wrote in an email. “He was always well informed, had a great sense of humor and was a staunch defender of our constitutional liberties. He will be greatly missed.”
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.