By Lew Avera
Two weeks ago featured a landmark event in San Clemente with the opening of the new Outlets at San Clemente, a commercial endeavor which has been underway for some 15 years with active development for the past eight years.
I had the privilege of being on the Planning Commission for six of the more recent years and was involved in every aspect of its planning and design. These were challenging times both for the city and the developer; however, the developer, Steve Craig, worked closely with the city to deliver an exceptional product.
By far the biggest challenge, in every respect, was developing a substantial commercial location fairly close to the center of our historical areas to “fit” and not destroy, infringe upon or overwhelm these historical areas.
The truly significant historical areas are on the ocean side of the freeway essentially commence at North Beach and run southward through the city toward the southern end of the city. There are historical sites to the east of the freeway, but they tend to be specific sites and not areas. The fear was that the Outlets would overwhelm the historic areas. Also, this site had been vacant since the city turned down the Nixon Library many years ago.
Last year I wrote a column that described the city as very geographically diverse with a historic downtown, many beautiful and historic homes, many large housing developments, such as Mablehead, Talega, Forster Ranch and other large non-historic homes and very large commercial developments like the Business Park, Pico Plaza, Walmart, etc.
I suggested that, in spite of this construction and commercial diversity, it did not infringe upon or overwhelm San Clemente and that the city continued to be a very significant tasteful and historic community and could continue to take pride in its identity as a beautiful “Spanish Village by the Sea.” I believe that the Outlets at San Clemente is sufficiently separated from the historic areas enough that it does not damage the remaining profile of the city.
Perhaps most significant about the area of the outlet mall is that it is the very last large open space in the city suitable for any commercial development. Essentially the city is “built out.” Horizontal density is virtually 100 percent while vertical density remains very low. In terms of future commercial development, what remains is a huge challenge, which has eluded the city for a very long time—the restoration of North Beach and South El Camino Real. The effective and appropriate revitalization of both of these areas will have a much greater impact on the city than the Outlets. We must focus on this and make it happen.
In the meantime, success of the Outlet Mall will be a huge benefit. Plans are underway to connect its patrons to downtown via a public transit system of some type, which could mean literally thousands of new customers for downtown. In addition, the sales tax revenue, estimated at some $2 million annually, will greatly boost the city’s financial capabilities.
I will continue to follow the Outlets’ operations and write more about it as it progresses forward.
Lew Avera is a retired career officer, Lt. Col., U.S. Marine Corps. He has been a director of the Talega HOA since 2003 and served on the San Clemente Planning Commission from 2005 to 2013.