Gallery: Citizens Shape San Clemente - May 2006 [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
by Lee Van Slyke, photos by Don Kindred
San Clemente's first schoolhouseSince the creation of the first Architectural Review Committee by City Founder Ole Hanson in 1925, groups of residents have shaped the architectural legacy of San Clemente.
Working with the City’s staff, citizen groups have created the policies that have shaped our beaches and our ridgelines, created our parks and open spaces, and enhanced the ambiance and property values of the Spanish Village by the Sea.
These local ordinances, rules and procedures are just a part of the picture. Development and change is also regulated by State laws, such as the California Environmental Quality Act, and Federal laws such as the ADA.
Let’s take a quick tour of the unfolding of citizen activity over the past 80 years.
Citizens Create Architectural Guidelines
As the bulldozers began the grading of the future City of San Clemente, Ole Hanson drafted the first architectural guidelines for construction in San Clemente. By 1926 he had created an architectural board to enforce the new rules. The City of San Clemente was incorporated in 1928, adding a layer of planning, ordinances and reviews to those of the State and County.
The mandate for Spanish Colonial Revival architecture throughout the city lasted only until 1937. For the next 45 years, residents and their elected officials chose a less strict standard for architecture in the City. Big changes were happening at the State and Federal levels, however, which ultimately affected the shape of development in San Clemente.
California’s legislature adopted the California Environmental Quality Act in 1964. CEQA, as it is known, vests in all of the citizens of the state a right to enjoy certain benefits associated with a healthy and sound environment. Two of its provisions have had a major effect on San Clemente - the creation of the Coastal Commission and the creation of obligations to maintain historical elements that are benefits to the environment.
Today all development along the coast must be approved by the Coastal Commission. The development of Marblehead Coastal, for example, was approved by the Coastal Commission in March of 2006 after more than twenty years of planning and negotiation.
CEQA provides that development in California must not diminish the quality of the environment, but that any loss must be mitigated by the developer. To the extent that there are unmitigated damages to the environment, the developer is required to provide benefits called overriding considerations that make the development worthwhile to the community. Often these are cash payments which the City uses to create a variety of environmental improvements. Documentation of the reasonableness of environmental damage and overriding considerations has stalled even the most sophisticated developers.
The requirements of the Coastal Commission and the complications of CEQA mitigation have added significantly to the permit process as builders shape-and reshape-the coastal areas, wetlands, chaparral areas and historic buildings in San Clemente.
The Pier Bowl Conceptual Plan presented by the City staff in the 1970s was rejected by residents. After considerable citizen involvement, including an attempt to recall members of the City Council, a plan for the Redevelopment Authority was adopted that preserved the overall scale of buildings in the Pier Bowl. This determined the shape of the parking lot, lawns and walkways as well as created the Fisherman’s restaurant and bar on the pier.
In part because of the extent of citizen activity in this affair, the City Council created the Downtown Plan 2000 Advisory Committee to guide the elected officials and staff.
“…attempts to violate the Hanson architectural plan met with some reaction. Several of the first small houses bloomed in various colors, and with flat roofs… An architectural board composed of Hanson, Edward R Bartlett, contractor, and Thomas F Murphine had been formed to pass on all building plans.” - Homer Banks, 1930Revitalization and Redevelopment
The Citizens Advisory Committee for “Downtown Plan 2000” was appointed in 1982. Foremost among the results were the revitalization of Avenida Del Mar and the creation of the Redevelopment Authority for the Pier Bowl.
The Plan 2000 paved the way for the slowing of traffic and the comfort of pedestrians on Del Mar. The rest areas serve to slow traffic by changing the pattern seen by the driver and by making crossing the street safer and more comfortable for pedestrians.
In 1995 the Planning Commission followed up by changing the City’s parking policy to encourage outdoor dining.
The City of Dana Point is now studying the successful revitalization of Avenida Del Mar as it plans major changes to its downtown.
Citizens also demanded restrictions on the ways that the hillsides and ridgelines could be altered by new development.
The Citizen Advisory Committee to the General Plan Update was created in 1990. This group worked with the City’s staff, consultants and elected leaders to shape the evolving concept of quality of life in San Clemente.
Highlights of the 1992 General Plan include the Downtown Architectural Overlay District, the Cultural Heritage Permit process, and land use plans for Forster Ranch and Talega.
The Downtown Architectural Overlay District is a specially designated area in the vicinity of Avenida Del Mar. Within this area, plans for changes must be found to be consistent with the long-term goal of creating Spanish Colonial Revival architecture on and near Avenida Del Mar. Designs are reviewed by the Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee before being presented to the Planning Commission.
Again working with an Advisory Committee, the City created the Pier Bowl Specific Plan in 1993. This Specific Plan provides additional detail regarding many issues of development in the Pier Bowl. This plan guided changes in the Pier Bowl for more than a decade.
Forster Ranch and Talega have been guided by Specific Plans that guide the use of land and the nature of any construction that is done. Although most of the development of these Specific Plans is negotiated between the developer and the City’s staff, all final approvals are made by the elected City Council and in light of the citizen-led requirements in the General Plan.
Ole’s Dream: City with a Quality of Life
Even as he looked out over the chaparral-covered hillsides in 1924, Ole Hanson knew that people would keep coming to San Clemente. The growth of the City’s population will slow when the last homes are built in Talega and Marblehead Coastal, but it won’t stop. Vacant lots will be developed and the existing homes and businesses will continue to be used with increasing density.
To secure an improving quality of life in the context of this increasing density, the City Council appointed a Task Force to prepare a Downtown Vision and Strategic Plan. The City Council approved the resulting document and appointed Planner Jim Pechous to oversee its implementation. This is the framework for changes to the General Plan in the coming years. You can get a copy by calling Jim Pechous at (949) 361-6195.
Today, according to the planning commissioners we interviewed, the architects who work in San Clemente understand the guidelines that the community groups have recommended. Though the 80 years of citizen activity have created a legacy of rules and standards that make development of real estate more challenging than in newer, unincorporated areas.
After more than 75 years of City government, San Clemente has accumulated a mountain of rules and precedents, but nearly all of it came about the same way, from committees and commissions made up of committed residents.
The General Plan
Cultural Heritage Protection
Architectural Overlay District
Specific Plans for the Pier Bowl,
Forster Ranch and Talega
Coastal Land Use Plan
Downtown Strategic Plan
The process is never-ending. In fact, the Downtown Strategic Plan is the guide for changes to the General Plan in the next few years.
San Clementeans donate their time on three ongoing commissions and councils to implement the rules set up by the citizen groups. These are
Design Review Committee
To apply for a position on a commission, or to file papers to run for election to the City Council, contact the Office of the City Clerk at 361-8300.