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An aerial view of Capistrano Beach’s Doheny Park Road. Photo courtesy of ROMA Design Group/Tom Lamb Photography
An aerial view of Capistrano Beach’s Doheny Park Road. Photo courtesy of ROMA Design Group/Tom Lamb Photography

“Doheny Village is a vital part of the city of Dana Point. Famous names have evolved from this surfing village. Successful businesses have been built here. People’s lives are at stake. Please work with us to find solutions.” – Letter from Capo Beach business owners to the City Council

By Andrea Papagianis

From their Doheny Park Road storefront, Helen and Ziad Mahshi have a view of it all. They go to church and send their daughters to school down the street. They opened the doors of 2nd Hand Treasures three years ago and have quickly risen to the top of the local business scene.

But from their front door, they watch the street empty at night, they witness workers waiting for day jobs, they see the homeless trying to get by. Helen and Ziad are among area business owners and residents who want more for Capistrano Beach. They are among those striving to balance empathy with business, and those who believe—through small steps and an eye on the future—that this small but vibrant community that surfers and entrepreneurs put on the map can draw locals and visitors for years to come.

The Mahshis live, work and breathe Capo Beach. Their requests aren’t big. They believe new lighting or a marquee sign announcing the business district could help drive traffic. They believe designating a place for day workers to gather, increasing police patrols and extending outreach can bring about big change.

“It seems like Capo Beach has been neglected for a long time, which is sad,” Helen Mahshi said. “I’d like to see lights on the trees, signs that read ‘Support Local Businesses’ the way downtown Dana Point has.” This is one of the most traveled streets in Dana Point so it’s crazy to think it’s been neglected.”

Finding Direction, Gathering Momentum

A pair of meetings facilitated by the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce last week brought together the Capistrano Beach business community, residents and city leaders.

In a round table-style discussion, city staffers Ursula Luna-Reynosa and Brad Fowler, the directors of community development and public works, heard concerns about public safety, sanitation and the need for area beautification.

Sparked by a recent letter to the Dana Point City Council, the meetings aimed to help Capo Beach open discussions and get the dialogue started. Twenty-one business owners and a representative from Capo Beach Christian School signed on, hoping to highlight the unique atmosphere and corresponding challenges of their community.

The letter and meetings centered on safety, on day laborers, street landscaping and the local homeless population. Concerns were raised about the complexity of the issues, where business owners are working to balance their personal and financial needs with feelings of frustration and compassion.

“The problems and issues mentioned … are big and they cannot be ignored,” the letter reads. “The local businesses and churches are struggling to solve these issues. We cannot do it alone. Doheny Village is a vital part of the city of Dana Point. Famous names have evolved from this surfing village. Successful businesses have been built here. People’s lives are at stake. Please work with us to find solutions.”

Crime and vandalism were noted, as was littering, loitering and defecating on public and private spaces—things that can leave the area looking “dirty and neglected.” The letter called on the city to take note, to hear the area’s collective voice and to eventually take action to put Capo Beach back on the map.

But aside from these hurdles, Doheny Park business owners like the Mahshis are hopeful small, timely changes can help bring Capo Beach into the city’s destination fold.

“Business owners just want the general public to feel good about walking around, shopping and spending their dollars in Capo Beach,” said Michael Fox, owner of FoxLin Architecture in Capistrano Beach.

After the meeting, Fowler provided figures from completed capital improvement projects since 2001.

Of them, Capistrano Beach—from Doheny to the Palisades—accounted for 36 percent of the city’s repair and construction expenditures, or $30.2 million. The improvements have been predominantly focused on streets and other infrastructure repairs to the area’s storm drains, sidewalks and playgrounds.

The documents provided did not account for the $9.2 million budgeted for Town Center Lantern District improvements, nor the additional estimated $7 to $8 million needed to complete the project.

But the issues and progresses highlighted by Capo Beach residents and business owners at the meetings go far beyond potholes and drains. They hit right at the heart of the community and are things—in the eyes of many—that can no longer be ignored.

Finding Short- and Long-term Fixes

Ideas about a shelter for the homeless, a labeled spot where day laborers can gather and a Capo Beach-located sheriff’s department substation have been discussed. But at the core, and for the immediate future, business owners and residents want to be considered.

“The due process is going to take a long time,” Fox said. “They (business owners) really are hoping the City Council can look at some kind of interim solution to these problems, because the current solution might take a very long time.”

Doheny Park Road is a heavily-traveled street. Shops line the roadway, from the De Palma Clothing Inc. store to the Liquor Locker, where the road splits and becomes San Juan’s Camino Capistrano. There are big-box stores and restaurants alongside party, lumber, construction and plumbing suppliers. Homes, a fire station, bus yard, industrial complexes, a church and school surround the commercial corridor.

These are all factors being considered in the city’s Doheny Village revamp project, where the city’s Town Center project consultant, ROMA Design Group, is working on a plan to rezone areas to encourage downtown-style development and growth.

But that project, which got off the ground in 2011, is still in its planning phases.

“There are big plans for the area with Doheny Village, but that is 15 years out realistically,” Fox said. “A lot of the area’s business owners are just concerned about making it the next three years.”

The letter and meetings were among the first of many steps needed to bring about change. The co-signers and other business owners understand that, but for some time they’ve felt their work—to bring in new and maintain long-established businesses under rough-around-the-edges conditions—have been overlooked.

Tuesday night, four business owners spoke before the Dana Point City Council in hopes of agendizing the discussion.

“The best information an elected official can get is from the people that live and work in the community,” said Councilman Scott Schoeffel. “Better decisions are driven by better information.”

For now, Capo Beach business owners are going to the drawing board where they hope they can put their ideas into action.

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