By Jim Shilander

COVER-SC2012 has been a year of big change and big news in San Clemente. Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest stories of the year.

SONGS Leak Leads to Continued Idling
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has spent the last 11 months of 2012 shut down, following a small leak from one of the steam generator tubes in Unit 3 last January. The leak occurred due to “fluid elasticity” problems in the generator. The utility also kept Unit 2, which had been shut down for mainenance, off-line after it was discovered that wear had occurred in a similar area to the wear found in Unit 3, though not to the same extent in as many steam generator tubes. After the Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigated the plant, and Southern California Edison responded to their concerns, the utility submitted a proposal to restart Unit 2. No decision has yet been made on that restart plan. Unit 3 will likely remain inactive for some time.

SONGS Layoffs
Due in part to the trouble at the plant leaving it idle, Southern California Edison announced in August that it would lay off more than 700 employees at SONGS. The utility stated that it made the decision to cut back on employees after reviewing practices at similarly sized facilities across the country. The layoffs represent approximately one-third of the SONGS workforce.

Manuel Loggins Shot and Killed
Though no criminal charges were ultimately filed in the case, the shooting of Marine Sgt. Manuel Loggins by an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy on February 7 galvanized feelings throughout the area. Loggins had taken two of his young daughters for a workout and Bible study session at San Clemente High School early in the morning. A deputy, Darren Sandberg, himself a Marine veteran, was at the school and attempted to contact Loggins, who ignored him and walked onto the football filed, leaving his two daughters in the SUV. Sandberg called for additional personnel while the two girls remained in the car. After several minutes, Loggins returned and attempted to get in his vehicle, while deputies told him to stop. When Loggins started the vehicle and attempted to drive away, he was shot by Sandberg. The city of San Clemente reached out to raise money for Loggins’ family after the shooting. The family is pursuing a lawsuit against the county in incident, and the family has said statements made by the two daughters that their father was acting strangely were made under duress.

Elections Change City Council Balance of Power
The San Clemente City Council saw a dramatic shift in power this November. Out went 16-year city councilman and four-time Mayor Jim Dahl, and in came firefighter Chris Hamm, who teamed with incumbent councilman Bob Baker during the campaign. The race was marked by accusations of dirty campaigning. A second candidate named Bob Baker was also on the ballot, necessitating a drawing of lots to determine ballot position. The incumbent Baker alleged that political opponents had put up the second candidate, who withdrew from the race after his place on the ballot was secure, in order to confuse voters. The race also saw an increase in spending from outside groups, one of which made claims about Dahl and running mate Mike Mortenson receiving taxpayer funds from the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce that it later had to acknowledge were false. Baker was also elected as the city’s Mayor in December, his first such term after first being voted into office in 2008. On the school board side, John Alpay won his first full term on the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees, outpacing challenger Steve Lang.

General Plan/Building Height Controversies
Members of the city’s General Plan Advisory Commission finished up their work on the city’s new general plan in December, but it was one particular recommendation of the board that drew significant debate. The body has recommended that a height limit be put in place in the “T-Zone” area at the junction of Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real. The proposal has been championed by groups like the San Clemente Historical Society, who fear a “canyon effect” on Avenida Del Mar. Opponents have claimed the proposal erodes property rights and would put downtown property owners at a disadvantage when the retail development at Marblehead Coastal opens. The Planning Commission, however, struck down the proposal in September after hearing several hours of testimony. The issue still must go before the City Council for final approval.

New Ralph’s Opens
After years of controversy over its final shape, the new Ralph’s Fresh Fare on El Camino Real reopened August 3. The store had closed the previous December to begin renovations, increasing its size to 8,322 square feet of shopping space, 9,000–square-feet more than before. The initial proposal made by the grocer had called for a much larger facility, at 70,000 square feet, which drew opposition throughout the community and was initially rejected by the city.

2nd Battalion, 4th Marines Returns
San Clemente’s adopted Marine Unit returned home from seven months of deployment in Afghanistan in June, and the city welcomed them back in style. The city closed off Avenida Del Mar for a welcome home parade for the unit, the first time the city had welcomed a battalion in such a fashion. While in Afghanistan, the unit had patrolled an area approximately twice the size of Orange County. Cpl. Jonluke Bateman, 22, Lance Cpl. Kenneth E. Cochran, 22, Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Dunning, 31, Lance Cpl. Benjamin W. Schmidt, 24, and Sgt. William Stacey, 23, all lost their lives during the deployment. Nearly 50 Purple Hearts were awarded to men in the battalion during their deployment.

Vista Hermosa Sports Park Opens
After several years of construction and planning, the city officially opened Vista Hermosa Sports Park and Aquatics Center in February. The park includes Orange County’s first universal access playground, Courtney’s SandCastle. The park has already begun hosting a number of community events, such as Carnival Colossal, and has become a major new home for local sports leagues and programs. Fundraising for the second phase of Courtney’s SandCastle, which will include a sensory garden, has begun in earnest, with the city agreeing to match donations to the effort. The California Association of Parks & Recreation Commissioners and Board Members honored the playground in March as the group’s outstanding project of the year for 2012.

City Prepares for I-5 Work
Caltrans’ plans for widening Interstate 5 over the next several years in San Clemente promises to create traffic issues for a long time, traffic problems that sometimes cropped up this year as other projects began. But the issue of what the state agency will do to protect residents from hearing traffic, and its failures to adequately do so previously, brought out high spirits throughout the city. Residents along the east side of the freeway lashed out against Caltrans after the installation of the sound walls raised noise levels and blocked views, complaining the soundwalls have hurt their home values and quality of life. During a City Council meeting at which Caltrans officials were presenting their plans for widening project in August (a project that will include additional new and reconstructed soundwalls) residents asked the council to “hold their feet to the fire,” to improve the situation. The agency later agreed to include special sound absorbing tiles in the construction of the new soundwalls.

New Police Chief Takes Command
Orange County Sheriff’s Lieutenant John Coppock was named the city’s Chief of Police Services by the San Clemente City Council in March after his predecessor, Lt. Paul D’Auria, was promoted to captain, and moved into the role of commander an Orange County jail in January. Coppock, a 26-year law enforcement officer, had previously served in San Clemente before the city contracted for police services with the county. Coppock, who was forced to deal with the aftermath of the Loggins shooting, has tried to make officers more accessible to the community. A citizen police academy, proposed by Coppock in the fall, would allow residents to get insight into what police officers in the city do and will begin next year.

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