by Bill Thomas
James W. Makshanoff, San Clemente’s brand new City Manager, who prefers being called ‘James,’ has been on the job since late September. In that short time, his experiential education regarding the responsibilities and the paths he must follow has been inclusive. He’s spent time with key city staff members whom he already classifies as “…some of the best I’ve ever known;” members of the city council; community leaders from San Clemente businesses, service clubs and organizations, publications; and active citizens.
“When the San Clemente city manager’s position availability was announced,” he said, “I jumped at the opportunity to apply. I’ve been an admirer of this city for a number of years. This is a very special place.”
James, his wife, Suzanne, and two young sons, Luke, 13, and Alex, 10, have been regular campers and swimmers at San Clemente’s State Park for the last few years, as well as regular visitors to the city’s other amenities. His interest in water sports began in his youth growing up in Newport Beach, attending Long Beach State University, where he obtained his bachelors’ and masters’ degrees, and as a United States Water Polo Olympian. He also was a member of the U.S. water polo national team, as well as a Federation International Nations of Aquatics World Cup champion. It appears that his two offspring have similar interests, which may have positive bearing on our city’s future youth sports scene when they begin school here shortly.
The Makshanoffs plan and look forward to physically moving to San Clemente ASAP. With a dad who’s 6’5,” his two boys should only have problems …”in the economy section of an airplane,” he said.
James has over 24 years of experience in city government, most recently serving as City Manager of Azusa with a population of 50,000, a workforce of 300 and a city budget of 120 million. Prior to that challenging experience, he was assistant city manager in Azusa where he previously served as public works director. He was also a Deputy City Manager in Downey and an assistant to Covina’s city manager before that. Additionally, he gained early governing experiences through internships with Brea and the Orange County Fire Authority.
James’ initial priorities are to step into the shoes of the former city manager, Pall Gudgerisson. As he stated, “To keep the same financial sense of the previous administration”…”to look out for the San Clemente community”…” to provide public safety and a strong infrastructural system, whether that’s streets or utilities.”
He continued, “We need to make sure we have a staff to provide the land use expertise when it comes to zoning and building codes and insuring that a good product is built in this city. When you do that, the other things fall into place.”
He spoke about providing a safe secure place where people want to live, have their businesses, and raise their families. He emphasized the value of the economic forces that are revenue-based and help provide city services.
“We need to take care of the core of the infrastructure and land use,” he said. “With those in place, you can build off of that foundation, providing the programs, the library, those things the people down here are blessed with. The climate is great. The city amenities are fantastic, as are the recreational activities, and the things that the city currently does. It’s just a top notch city. That’s the great thing about representative government. Good people are elected to prioritize…The long term financial plan is unique. We started this in Azusa, too, this idea of formulating financial policies and controls to possibly adopt for core and mission and using the money for financial security.”
In sum, he feels a solid financial plan keeps everyone focused on what can be accomplished in a city and provides opportunities for consistency.
Asked about the benefits to the city from the new Steve Craig shopping outlet center enterprise and the planned residential complex, James feels it will provide a new and strong, constructive base. The city staff is currently working on what property and sales tax revenue will be forthcoming; what stores are actually coming, their square footages, and their sales history in other locations. Both the commercial and residential building will provide a large amount of revenue.
He stated, “Our challenge here is to make sure we don’t let people spend that money before it comes in or spend it in too many different ways. We have to educate people to be careful how the money is spent and that it’s not just a golden pot.”
Other long term concerns relate to protecting the pier and the beach, which provide a unique identity to San Clemente. He is concerned about the coastal sand flow and all the involved elements. Additionally, public safety is becoming more expensive than other aspects of city government; California cities are taking serious note of this. In the long term, he is also thinking about the need for city departments to be housed in a common facility rather than to be geographically split as they are now.
In short, our new city manager is excited and feels blessed to be here. He’s appreciative of what’s been going on in San Clemente, and of working with a competent staff. He looks forward to the challenges, and to meeting more of our citizenry.
With Executive Assistant Veronica Ferenz keeping his calendar full of local information providers, it definitely appears that we’re in good hands with our new city manager.