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San Clemente is the Spanish Village by the Sea. One feature that our founder, Ole Hanson, did to create his dream village was to install red tile sidewalks. Over 6 and a half miles were installed between 1926 to 1928. While that is a small fraction of the more than 146 miles of plain concrete sidewalks in the city, they are an integral part of our cultural heritage as Ole’s Spanish Village. Unfortunately, there is a movement afoot to phase out this part of our history.
Decades ago, our city leaders considered our red tile sidewalks important enough to map and measure where every foot of those sidewalks existed. Their intent, according to our city engineer was to eventually fill in every gap on streets that had tile, with continuous red tile sidewalk. In 2006, the city commissioned a study ($34,000) to update our Historic Structures List (HSL). The consultant, Historic Resources Group, made a number of recommendations, one of which was to include our historic tile sidewalks on the HSL. They rated the tile sidewalks as follows: “Appears eligible for National Register as a contributor to a National Register eligible district.” Based on that recommendation, on Oct. 2, 2007 our council voted 4-0 to add our tile sidewalks to our HSL. They have been safe and protected for these past eight years.
Tile sidewalks, like plain concrete sidewalks, do not last forever. Since these tile sidewalks are over 85 years old, they are deteriorating. Our city has a policy of splitting the cost of replacement of any public sidewalk with the property owner abutting the sidewalk. Tile sidewalk costs about three times what a concrete one does. My understanding is $30 per square foot versus $10 per square foot.
The thought process driving the idea to stop protecting our tile sidewalks is twofold. One, it is not fair to force one property owner to spend more on sidewalks in front of their house just because it is tile. Two, it is not fair to taxpayers, who share the cost, to spend more on tile sidewalks than they would for concrete.
These are specious arguments. When people buy a historic property, including one on a street with historic sidewalks, they are accepting certain obligations that buyers of non-historic properties do not have. One should not buy a 1926 Ole Hanson house with the idea that they will be allowed to bulldoze it. They won’t.
With respect to the unfairness of spending taxpayer money for something that not everyone uses—again specious—I speak to many people who never use any of our 21 parks, or our beaches, or pier, or golf course, or beach trail, or Ole Hanson Beach Club, or Casa Romantica. Should we defund them? Of course not! Cities have an obligation to provide services and to protect the integrity of the community.
Part of the historic integrity of San Clemente lies in our historic sidewalks. On Oct. 20, please tell our City Council to leave our tile sidewalks on Our Historic Structure List where they belong. Leave the current tile sidewalk policy in place. It was established long ago, was well thought out and needs no modification.