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By Shawn Raymundo
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department will likely have a new home in San Clemente, as the council voted on Tuesday, Feb. 4 to move forward with plans of establishing a police services substation on the second floor of the city hall building on Calle Negocio.
The move comes more than eight months after asbestos was discovered at the former San Clemente Police Services Station building, forcing officers and other OCSD personnel to evacuate and relocate to the Aliso Viejo Substation.
In a 3-2 decision with Councilmembers Chris Hamm and Kathy Ward dissenting, the council approved a proposal by Councilmember Gene James to begin designing the space within the new city hall building for OCSD.
Leading off the council’s discussion on the dais, Hamm first commended James for expediting the issue, then stated, “In my mind, there couldn’t be a worse location than the second story of the city hall.”
Citing conversations with previous police lieutenants, Hamm said there’s an accessibility concern, as the building’s location, which is within the Rancho San Clemente Business Park just off Avenida Pico, is difficult to get out of during certain hours of the day because of the heavily trafficked arterial road.
“So, while I understand the desire for a new location and I support the need, I couldn’t have picked a worse location,” Hamm said, recommending a site that’s “more accessible,” such as the previous homeless shelter on Avenida Pico.
Confirming with Assistant City Manager Erik Sund that the city has $4.5 million of public safety mitigation fees in the budget, as well as other general fund monies to help construct a substation, Ward asked why it was necessary to rush the process “when maybe we should do something better, long-term.”
James, touching on OCSD’s strained relationship with the city, said there’s a morale problem among officers serving San Clemente. He’s hopeful, James said, that by having them share a roof with city staff, they’ll be able to reconnect with San Clemente.
“Bringing those police services in one building with the city and giving them some connection with the city, which I don’t think we have right now, that’s why I’m looking at expediting this right now,” James said.
Interim City Manager Robert Dunek also noted that with the city’s officers operating out of a larger space in Aliso Viejo, OCSD is beginning to charge the city extra rent while also accounting for other additional travel costs between there and San Clemente.
On Tuesday, the council was presented with two options related to the police substation: spend $75,000 to either begin designing the space on the city hall’s second floor or launch a study to evaluate alternative locations.
Such alternatives included the vacant lot next to the Water Reclamation Plant on Avenida Pico—where the city had previously established an outdoor homeless shelter—and a vacant field at Vista Hermosa Sports Park.
According to the city, an asbestos remediation project was conducted at the police services station, which is located at the former city hall building on Avenida Presidio. The work is now done and could potentially rehouse the officers.
However, with the city currently exploring the possibility of selling that building, OCSD voiced concern about moving back into the space and later having to relocate again if the site were to eventually be sold.
San Clemente Police Chief Lt. Edward Manhart confirmed to the council on Tuesday that it would be beneficial to have police services and city staff working in the same building.
“When we were kicked out of the building downstairs, I asked to be back to city hall, because it would be important to connect with the city,” he said, adding: “Having the entire staff in the city hall is instrumental to the relationship with the city.”
The city, Sund said, is hopeful there will be minimal construction on the second floor, but noted that some improvements are likely going to be needed, such as installing a kitchen, a locker room or gun storage.
With the council’s action “tonight, we’ll start a stakeholder group shortly thereafter with OCSD to start working with our design,” Sund said.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.