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By Lew Avera
During my time on the city’s Planning Commission, I served on the Traffic Task Force for several years. We spent our time on all aspects of traffic movement in the city. Downtown, Del Mar, the Pier and North Beach, to some extent, were always problem areas due to density and lack of parking, creating traffic congestion that no one wanted to face. As a result, none of these areas ever lived up to their potential.
The city is now focusing on this problem with a real potential solution at hand. The solution would move large numbers of people throughout the area frequently, without delay, and would alleviate traffic congestion. In addition, it could facilitate attracting a good number of the tens of thousands of new patrons to the Outlets at San Clemente and also to downtown and add to our local business successes.
The solution is a trolley system. The trolley would be a link of several small open-air vehicles, similar to small buses, which could transport people along a pre-determined route. The present plan is for three trolleys to run 15 minutes apart. In other words, one could expect a trolley every 15 minutes at designated locations. The initial route described in the Orange County Transportation Authority funding application would most likely be a loop from the Hermosa Sports Park down Hermosa to Shorecliffs, then North Beach, North El Camino Real, Del Mar and the Pier. The trolleys would then return along this same route with a total loop time of about 45 minutes. This system would serve local residents as well as visitors. Two vital criteria for inland pick-up locations are ease of access and ample parking. There is also a desire to see this extended into south San Clemente along El Camino Real. This would be considered in a second phase once the initial plan is up and running successfully.
Initially, the trolley would run during the summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day beginning in 2017.
At the present time, San Clemente is the only one of the three most southern and beach-oriented cities that does not have a trolley. Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano all have trolleys, which add immensely to their economic success and convenience of their residents. While not part of the present plan, there is the potential for a San Clemente trolley system to link up with these other three cities.
Some six years ago, Talega had a system similar to this for its residents for two summers. Funded by the developer, it began at the Swim and Athletic Club with very ample parking and ran along Del Mar to the Pier. It was highly successful and used extensively. Three factors led to its ending: The developer withdrew funding and it could not emerge as self-funding; there was only one trolley, which led to much longer and unacceptable waiting periods than the new proposed trolley; and there was a glitch one July 4th evening when the riders were stranded at the Pier after fireworks until 11 p.m. because the downtown streets were closed and access had not been coordinated with law enforcement. The two-year existence, however, indicated a strong demand for this type of transportation.
A San Clemente trolley system will be successful if planned and operated properly. In serving both the actual “residents” of San Clemente as well as the business populations, it would actually serve a “single segment” because both elements are meaningful and vital parts of San Clemente. Our city will take a leap forward with the new trolley. Let’s all get behind it!
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.