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San Clemente Journal

Livability, Tourism and the Economy

Nov 20, 2014 09:55AM ● By Raad Ghantous
by Raad Ghantous, President, San Clemente Historical Society
When we advocate for preservation programs, we are advocating for utilization of an invaluable resource to stimulate economic growth.
Congratulations are due to members of the San Clemente Historical Society and preservationists who have worked tirelessly for decades to protect and inventory the unique historical built environment that endears San Clemente to people around the world as much as it does its residents.
 We all know the importance of tourism to our local economy and going forward decisions regarding public policy, planning and development simply must take into consideration the interrelationships between the economy, quality of life, livability and tourism.
 The key term that we must apply as we set out to ensure tourism has a positive impact on our community is 'Authenticity'. Visitors to our Spanish village are looking for an in depth authentic, California beachside town experience not a commercialized “theme park” or generic touristy attractions. Enhancing our genuine charm will draw new visitors and investors to San Clemente.
 San Clemente offers a local, inherited culture built on years of preserving historical commercial buildings and private residences. The incentive we offer through heritage tourism is the history of our town which is unparalleled in California. 
More and more people are moving into San Clemente because of its growing walk-ability, rich culture, sense of close community, and of course the historical architecture that truly defines the character of our neighborhoods.
 Imagine sharing that authentic sense of history with someone for the first time; what they see, touch, smell and hear is all involved in them feeling rooted and anchored and a genuine part of not just the past but of a 'REAL place'!
 San Clemente's unique historic Ole Hanson Spanish revival architecture plays a critical role in the communities quality of life appeal; an attribute directly related to the degree that the historical-built environment remains and is in use, preserved and protected for residents and visitors today and in the future.
 Yes, the historic built environment is absolutely essential to the economy, tourism and livability of San Clemente.
 We cannot ignore the positive effects of an economic strategy that preserves the historic built environment when it generates new jobs, attracts private investment and sends a positive message that neighborhoods new and old are thriving here and even more so in the historic pulsating centers, districts if you will, around our Spanish Village.
 San Clemente for many years has celebrated growing awareness of its uniqueness and heritage and has reclaimed many of its historic built treasures like the Casa Romantic, the Casino San Clemente, Ole Hanson's own building atop the corner of El Camino Real and Avenida Del Mar, at the heart of historic downtown.  Yet ironically blight still affects some historic buildings/areas. This is truly mind boggling and we may question, are these eyesores at this point caused by neglect or intentional choice? How might we better put into place programs and leverage our proven on-the-ground experience to perhaps reverse the condition of the iconic Miramar Theatre in North Beach?
 There is no reason to ease up on regulations enacted to protect our historic jewels and we must never forget the need for consistency nor the  power of setting 'precedent'. Uninformed advocacy to abolish regulations for historic preservation will not enhance our community and only weakens our tenuous hold of our priceless architectural heritage that once lost cannot be recreated.
 The Ole Hanson Beach Club renovation project recently had its authentic pool side exterior compromised when City Council insisted on pushing through the installation of two new doors leading to the pool deck, a design that did not consider the effect on the historical integrity of the building. These doors will cut into and forever change the major character-defining feature grouping of an elegant spanning gentle arch and symmetrically proportioned set of original windows below it. Approving this action set a precedent even prior to any actual work being done. The precedent that exterior architecture of a historical building may be changed by a City Council designing from the dais! Elected officials, justifying their dubious decision, insisted this was unavoidable and the only way possible to make the building ADA compliant even though the City's own consultant had offered alternative options to do so! They said it would not set a precedent and yet, quite predictably, a situation unfortunately arose almost immediately on a historic residence seeking renovation permitting and citing the changes to the Beach Club as a precedent for their requested changes .
 It is astounding how often projects are proposed that might have a negative impact on what attracted the investors to San Clemente in the first place. How many times have we heard the equivalent of "What a nice historic area -- please let us demolish one or more of the historic buildings to make way for OUR great project!" How many times have we witnessed the endangerment to the “goose that lays the golden egg”, our unique historic built environment in San Clemente? Too many times if you ask me. Let us be clear, we are not calling for the 'commodification' of our heritage, but a balanced, sustainable approach to ensure both San Clemente residents and visitors have the opportunity to enjoy our historic treasures.
 Our experience to date, if we choose to admit it, is that preservation in San Clemente doesn't harm our economy: it ignites it! It highlights and showcases our authenticity and uniqueness which in turns stimulates economic activity which makes it possible to put in place a heritage tourism plan that is part of a community mobilization strategy; to reinvent the role of heritage so that it serves the needs of everyone assuring us of our special quality of life, preserving and protecting our rich and special place in Southern California's history, as well as ensuring our growing and sustainable prosperity.