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By PFM Founder Norb Garrett
City politics isn’t for everyone. Just ask anyone who has put themselves forward to serve our community, and they’ll tell you the hours are long, the pay is meaningless, and the exposure to public analysis is exhausting.
But Jim Dahl was made for public office, for one simple reason: he cared more about the city he loved—San Clemente—than any of the personal accolades or aggravation that came with the job. Sadly, Jim died on Jan. 12 at the age of 78, leaving behind a legacy of service and dedication that few could ever dream of accomplishing.
Jim served in the Orange County Fire Authority for 37 years, starting as a volunteer firefighter in 1970 and rising to the rank of captain by the time he retired. He and his wife, Alice, moved to San Clemente in 1964, where for about the last 58 years they raised their family (son Jimmy, daughter Ingrid) and fell in love with the community.
He further committed himself to San Clemente by choosing to run for a seat on City Council in 1996, serving a total of 16 years. During his tenure on the dais, he was appointed as mayor four times.
His commitment to the city was so great, he even ran again for City Council in 2020, but fell short on that bid. And up until 2021, Jim continued to serve as the city representative on the Orange County Vector Control Board.
Jim Dahl was San Clemente through and through. He literally wore it on his sleeve, adorned always in his colorful Hawaiian print shirts.
My first introduction to Jim came in 2005, when I was in the process of launching the San Clemente Times. I met with him and other city officials to tell them of my intention to launch a new free weekly newspaper.
He thought I was nuts (he was right, of course), but applauded the idea that the SC Times would be 100% focused on San Clemente at a time when the Orange County Register’s Sun Post was covering more regional news, aside from Fred Swegles’ always outstanding local reporting.
Jim was always courteous and fair with me and the reporters at the paper; always gracious in granting time for interviews and greeting me with a smile and, “Oh, hello, Norb,” when we saw each other in public.
A fellow surfer, he and I shared a passion for the water and often spoke about my “other job” running a large media company that included Surfer and Surfing magazines.
Jim’s time on council bridged some heady issues facing the city during the time we knew each other, such as the controversial toll road extension and the “Save Trestles” movement, the development of the Outlets at San Clemente and many others.
His opinions most certainly weren’t always popular—no politicians’ ever are—but he stood by them with the conviction of someone who felt he was “doing the right thing” for San Clemente.
I always appreciated that about him; you knew what you were going to get with Jim Dahl. Love it or leave it. To me, that speaks volumes about a man and his contributions to his community. Thanks, Jim, for all that you did for me and the paper, and more importantly, for San Clemente. You’ll be missed but never forgotten.
Editor’s Note: The Dahl family has arranged a Celebration of Life for March 27, from 1-4 p.m. at Vista Hermosa Sports Park (987 Avenida Vista Hermosa, San Clemente). The public is welcome to attend. If you have any questions, please contact Katie Dahl at 949.374.0342.