Town Center revitalization, fiscal stability, top priorities for the new year
By Andrea Swayne
While the din of holiday and New Year celebrations fades, the city is ready to set sail and forge ahead with ongoing projects and to tackle the many new challenges 2013 will likely bring.
With Councilman Steven Weinberg at the helm as mayor, the city will continue with the tasks at hand, fueled by last year’s progress.
The work to be done includes an effort to wrap up a couple of significant ongoing court battles that remain without final resolution. The two highest profile matters are litigation over the city’s 2011 closure of all the medical marijuana dispensaries in town and the battle over public access through two gated paths from Strand Vista Park to the beach below.
Although a summary judgment ordering one of the closed marijuana dispensaries to pay $2.4 million (of the approximately $7 million combined total in judgments previously awarded to the city) was overturned and a second court reduced the judgment to $608,000 plus attorney’s fees, City Attorney Patrick Munoz said the city will continue to pursue payment in all of the cases. Likewise, the dispensary founders have vowed to continue their appeals.
As the Surfrider Foundation and the California Coastal Commission continue to call for removal of the gates and posted hours at the two of five pathways leading to Strand Beach through the Strand at Headlands development, the city will continue to defend its belief that the gates are a matter of public safety which the city has a right to enforce and are in no way aimed at restricting access.
The OC Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Plan has continued to progress slowly since its first introduction in 1997. Following the Orange County Board of Supervisors February approval of an architecture and engineering contract for landside development and their December approval of the Environmental Impact Report for the marina improvement portion of the plan, the city is looking forward to begin seeing specific construction designs as the project moves forward this year.
In December, City Council voted unanimously to renew the Dana Point Tourism Business Improvement District, or TBID, which allows the city’s four largest hotels to collect funds via a $3 per night assessment to be used for the continued branding and marketing the city.
And, although council members will have plenty to consider with matters like planning for future improvements in the Doheny Village area of Capistrano Beach and a draft ordinance for the possible regulation of short-term vacation rentals now in the works, the most talked about issue is what 2013 could bring to the progress of the Town Center Revitalization project.
All five council members mention Town Center Revitalization project as a top priority, noting that it hinges directly on the continued financial stability of the city. Read on for their thoughts both issues.
“I get asked most ‘What’s going on with Town Center?’ At our last meeting, I requested a full, public briefing on it and asked staff to consult the South Coast Water District regarding their commitment and timeframe to begin.
“The Town Center Plan was approved six years ago. Now is the time to get a competitive bid and construct rather than disrupt businesses when the economy rebounds. We don’t have to do the entire project. How much (will it take) to change the streets to two-way or widen sidewalks? We average $32 million in reserves and $5 million is available to start the funding discussion, if we are prudent and leave one year’s revenue ($27 million last year) in the bank. I worry our local agency investment fund based in Sacramento and/or our $7 million of undesignated reserves could be at risk by the state.
“Building Town Center will beautify the area, indicate to investors that we are committed to the project, make Lantern Village attractive to investment and stimulate the local economy during the construction as workers buy lunch, gas, supplies, etc. around town.
“The time in now. We must make Town Center a priority as we embark on our two-year budget discussions beginning this spring.”
“Substantial progress on the city’s Town Center project is at the top of my list of 2013 priorities. The key to that progress will be the city’s ability to attract and retain qualified investors, lenders and development professionals who are both willing and able to assume the sizeable financial and other risks associated with a project of this magnitude.
“Unfortunately, some of the most important factors that dictate the success or failure of development projects are well outside of the city’s control or influence. For example, developers generally must be able to finance their ventures by raising investment capital and obtaining loans, and our prolonged economic downturn has made both a significant challenge.
“An improving economy may begin to create favorable conditions for the Town Center project to advance at a much brisker pace. Realistically, after nearly five years of deep recession, it may still take longer than any of us would prefer. I am certain that in the coming months the City Council and staff will be exploring many different options to carry out the Town Center project in a manner that is prudent, legally appropriate and in the best interests of all Dana Point residents, businesses and taxpayers.”
“The economy is slowly recovering and I believe that our top priority is to ensure that our city continues to be fiscally stable. Due to the prudent planning and budgeting by the City Council and staff, Dana Point is one of the few cities in California that has no debt, no unfunded pension liability, significant cash reserves and a balanced budget. As a result, we have the option to explore opportunities to provide exceptional and additional projects, activities and services that benefit the residents and business community so we continue to be the best place to live, work and play.
“I would like to focus on projects that increase the value of Dana Point as a coastal city and international resort destination. If our hotels and businesses are prosperous and our property values rise, we have a healthy financial climate and that provides comfort and many options for our city and its residents. We can focus on the Town Center, Dana Point Harbor and Doheny Village projects as well as additional items that are significant to our residents.
“The city will be conducting another community survey and the results will yield priorities and where our focus should be placed.”
“We must continue to be fiscally responsible with the city’s budget on both the revenue and expense side, while keeping our reserves healthy for a rainy day. Once we have fulfilled the basic needs of the city and our residents, we can more fully discuss this next year’s priorities.
“As the economy seems to be getting better, and our revenues are trending up, I would like to see us begin the Town Center project. This is a big, multi-million dollar endeavor. It is difficult to do it piecemeal and thus disrupt the business over a long period of time. The question is, do we bond with low interest rates and low construction costs, or wait until we have saved most or all of the money to pay for the project?
“Just as we did in the Town Center Plan, we need to complete the Doheny Village Plan and the short-term rental issue needs to be finalized. In both instances, the owners can plan how to best utilize their property. But most of all, we need to continue to be fiscally responsible with the city’s money while delivering five-star service to our residents and visitors.”
Carlos N. Olvera
“The Town Center Plan was one of my top three main issues during my campaign for City Council and remains so today.
“This started during my days on the Planning Commission in the early ‘90s. It has progressed with community input, design plans and Coastal Commission approval. The cost estimate is $19 million dollars. It requires the water district to redo the water and sewage infrastructure for the proposed increase usage of the area. The city needs to convert the one-way traffic to two-way, do sidewalk and parking improvements and street landscaping.
“But funding is the issue. A residential survey indicated that no bonds should be issued to pay for it. But the big question is, when will vacant property owners be ready to start new construction, and who goes first?
“We do not want the city or the water district to tear up the streets for their own projects separately. And the current and proposed businesses do not want less customer traffic due to construction. The solution is to get all the stakeholders together to produce a pay-as-you-go plan that is acceptable to all.
“I will not propose any new projects that might take away manpower or city funds which could delay Town Center.”